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A Blank Check for Egypt's Dictator

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi attends the 23rd African Union summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, on June 26

Photograph by Amine Landoulsi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi attends the 23rd African Union summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, on June 26

The timing of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s meeting with Egypt’s newly elected president, Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, was unfortunate. What it says about the confusion that reigns over U.S. foreign policy in Egypt is worse. In Cairo, Kerry assured El-Sisi that U.S. military aid that had been frozen because of Egypt’s atrocious human-rights record would be released “very soon.” Less than 24 hours later, an Egyptian court sentenced three Al Jazeera journalists to jail for 7 to 10 years for doing their jobs.

Kerry’s reasoning for ending the freeze on aid is, to put it politely, naive. Despite his statement after the meeting, nothing suggests El-Sisi has begun to alter his human-rights policies.

On the contrary: About 20,000 of his political opponents, mainly from the Muslim Brotherhood but also from the liberal opposition, have been jailed; each mass trial of alleged Muslim Brotherhood supporters becomes more Orwellian than the last.

Is it too much to ask for consistency in U.S. policy on Egypt? There are at least two choices.

The Obama administration could acknowledge that, after a brief experiment with democracy that brought the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood to power, another dictatorship in Egypt is consistent with U.S. security interests, which includes honoring Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. If the U.S. is releasing the aid because doing so is required by the peace treaty, Kerry should just say so.

Or the administration could say that the primary U.S. interest in the Middle East is combating the rise and spread of anti-Western Islamist terrorist organizations, and that El-Sisi isn’t helping. His repressive tactics are inflaming sentiment that is leading to the rise of more dangerous Islamist terrorist groups.

The facts suggest that El-Sisi is intent on building a state at least as repressive as that of former dictator Hosni Mubarak, who enjoyed decades of U.S. support until he was toppled by pro-democracy protests in 2011. The U.S. supported the aims of those protests. Now it is supporting a man who is brutally turning back the clock.

To read Noah Feldman on the Supreme Court’s latest opinions and Peter Orszag on the U.S. growth rate, go to:

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