Egypt is glossing over repression
For several years President Barack Obama has asserted that the United States must sometimes subordinate its commitment to human rights in backing repressive regimes that are supportive of U.S. national security objectives, such as fighting terrorism. The Egyptian government of Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi is providing a case study of why that doctrine is misguided.
In the name of defeating Islamic extremism, Sisi has instituted the most repressive regime Egypt has known in more than a half-century. Since leading a military coup against the elected government of Mohammed Morsy in July 2013, he has overseen the jailing of more than 16,000 people and the killing of more than 1,000; the banning of public protests; the elimination of a once-robust free press; and a massive crackdown on non-government groups. Scores of secular Egyptians who led the fight to create a liberal democracy in 2011 and 2012 have been imprisoned on trumped-up charges.
Yet the actual threat of terrorism in Egypt has steadily worsened under Sisi’s rule. Oct. 24 saw the country’s most deadly terrorist assault in decades: a suicide bomb attack in the Sinai Peninsula that killed more than 30 soldiers. Hundreds of soldiers and police have been killed in the Sinai in the past 15 months, and bombings in Cairo, unheard of before the coup, are now common. Both the foreign ministry and Cairo University have been targeted in recent weeks.
Sisi’s response to the latest attack exemplified his self-defeating reflexes: a blizzard of measures to further suppress peaceful opposition and free expression. Leading newspaper editors were induced to issue a statement last Sunday pledging not to criticize “state institutions,” including the army, police and judiciary. The same day a judge sentenced 23 more activists, including several leading liberal democrats, to three years in prison for violating the anti-protest law.
The regime’s repression is eliminating outlets for moderate Islamists, alienating secular allies and turning formerly peaceful opponents into jihadist recruits. The secular and liberal April 6 movement, which has been outlawed by the Sisi regime, rightly judged that the new measures “will … increase chaos and create a better environment for terrorism.”
The Obama administration has stubbornly resisted this commonsense conclusion. It has been courting the Sisi regime while downplaying its abuses. Secretary of State John Kerry insists, ludicrously, that Sisi is leading Egypt to democracy. Fortunately, he is constrained by Congress, which passed legislation conditioning the full resumption of military aid on a formal certification of that claim.
Instead of trying to free up aid that would be spent on tanks and fighter planes useless for fighting terrorism, the administration should be defending what remains of Egypt’s democratic opposition and civil society from Sisi.
— from The Washington Post