America under pressure: Israel, Saudi Arabia and Congress for Egypt
American policy toward Egypt continued on its tortured, confusing path this week when the Obama administration resumed some aid to what has become an increasingly repressive state. No matter how American officials try to spin it, the decision will come across as a vote of confidence in a military-dominated government with an authoritarian agenda and a track record of violent crackdowns on dissenters and political opponents.
After Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president, was overthrown in July, President Obama waited several months before suspending some of the military aid that most benefits the generals who staged the coup. The weaponry put on hold included Apache helicopters, Harpoon missiles, M1-A1 tank kits and F-16 warplanes.
The decision, which was announced on Tuesday, authorizes the delivery of 10 Apaches. Secretary of State John John Kerry cleared the way for the transfer by certifying that Egypt was upholding its obligations under the Egypt-Israel peace treaty.
When the aid suspension was first announced, American officials said future decisions on releasing weapons would rest on Egypt’s progress toward a “sustainable, inclusive, nonviolent transition to democracy.” Fortunately, the administration is still withholding most of the promised weapons, and Mr. Kerry did not make the mistake of arguing that Egypt has shown any serious signs of democratic reform.
A Pentagon spokesman said the helicopters would help Egypt fight Islamist militants in Sinai who have been attacking government security forces and destabilizing a territory that abuts Israel. That argument is puzzling; a Pentagon official told Congress in October that the hold on the Apaches was “not affecting” Egyptian operations in Sinai, and, on Thursday, the Egyptian military itself said it had gained “complete control over the situation.” The Americans seem to be unconcerned about the use of the Apaches in indiscriminate destruction of civilian homes in Sinai, which could fuel more antigovernment extremism.
As for the state of Egyptian democracy, since the coup, some 16,000 people have been locked up, mostly for peacefully exercising their right to free speech and assembly, and more than 1,000 people have been killed at the hands of government security forces, according to Human Rights Watch. As Egypt plans to vote for a new president in May, the favorite is Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, the former general and defense minister who led the overthrow of Mr. Morsi and the crushing of his Muslim Brotherhood allies.
America is under pressure from Israel, Saudi Arabia and Congress to improve ties with Egypt, and it has its own interests in ensuring that Egypt honors the peace treaty with Israel, cooperates on counterterrorism and allows ships to transit the Suez Canal. But the Obama administration has refused to even call the coup a coup and moved too gingerly to protest the military’s excesses. It has to be more honest about the unsavory choices it is making, including whether any support for a repressive army will ever bring stability and democracy.
New York Times Editorial Board
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