Obama Administration Sacrifices Security and Human Rights in Egypt

A new pharaoh is rising in Egypt. Gen. Abdel Fata al-Sisi is preparing to grasp supreme power, most likely as the country’s next president.  He is posing as democracy’s savior while his troops detain or kill those opposing him.  The arrests and shootings continued during last week’s constitutional referendum.

During the Cold War the U.S. stole Cairo away from the Soviet Union.  When revolution loomed in 2011 the administration endorsed dictator Hosni Mubarak, before trying to work with newly elected President Mohammed Morsi.  But the latter failed to expand his popular appeal and discredited the Muslim Brotherhood, making his defeat almost certain in the next poll. 

However, Gen. Sisi and his confederates were in a hurry to seize power and staged a coup.  Although the Brotherhood was not without blame, the military killed hundreds or more in the August crackdown in Cairo.  Since then thousands more have died and been arrested.

As I noted in my latest Forbes online column:

The putative pharaoh has been actively restoring the Ancien Regime.  Gen. Sisi has tapped military officials as provincial gauleiters, recreated Mubarak’s secret and intelligence police, reinstituted military trials, enacted strict new restrictions on demonstrations, arrested journalists, deployed private thugs against Morsi supporters and regime critics, and prosecuted protestors.

McClatchy’s Amina Ismail and Nancy Youssef reported:  “Egyptians caught in the roundup have told McClatchy they were tortured while awaiting charges.”  The new constitution maintains the military’s privileged status and protects repressive state institutions from outside control. 

The press has been a special military target.  The Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association cited a “worsening climate for free speech and peaceable assembly.” 

Overall, human rights activists say the situation is worse than under Mubarak.  Gamel al-Eid of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information argued that the military was sending a message:  “There is only one choice—to support the military or to be in jail.”

The regime hopes to destroy the Brotherhood.  However, the group withstood decades of repression before and emerged strong enough to win Egypt’s first legislative and presidential elections.  Moreover, by confirming the extremist critique that democracy is a fool’s errand, Gen. Sisi has left opponents of his incipient dictatorship little choice but to use violence. 

The Mubarak regime’s crackdown on the Brotherhood four decades ago sparked the formation of new radical groups, including al-Qaeda.  Before joining that organization current leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was tortured by the Mubarak regime. 

Violent opposition to Gen. Sisi’s incipient dictatorship is rising.  Policemen are being killed while bombings are increasing in frequency.  Worse for America, warned Max Boot:  “as long as Washington is seen on the side of the generals, some of their violence will be directed our way.”

However, the administration still refuses to call a coup a coup.  It reluctantly withheld portions of the $1.55 billion in annual foreign aid, while assuring Cairo that doing so was not “punitive.”  Then the administration pushed to relax aid conditions.

But most of the roughly $75 billion given to Cairo over the years enriched political and military elites and funded the purpose of prestige weapons from American arms makers.  The U.S. never received much “leverage” in return.  For instance, the knowledge that the Egyptian military would cease to exist after a war with Israel, not American money, kept the peace. 

Anyway, the U.S. had no credibility to enforce conditions since it never was willing to stop the money.  The administration finally (kind of) did so last fall, but if America runs back to Cairo, cash-in-hand, the former will never again have the slightest hint of leverage.  Moreover, the regime now is flooded with money from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states and doesn’t need American assistance.

Worse, underwriting a murderous regime inevitably stains the hands of American policymakers.  Who can believe Washington’s lectures on human rights when it is funding a grotesquely repressive regime in Egypt?

America should exit the Egyptian imbroglio.