The Egyptian regime run by the despotic General Abdelfattah al-Sisi is one of the world’s most brutal and repressive. Last year, Human Rights Watch documented that that Egyptian “security forces have carried out mass arrests and torture that harken back to the darkest days of former President Hosni Mubarak’s rule.” Just two months ago, the group warned that the abuses have “escalated,” and that Sisi, “governing by decree in the absence of an elected parliament, ha[s] provided near total impunity for security force abuses and issued a raft of laws that severely curtailed civil and political rights, effectively erasing the human rights gains of the 2011 uprising that ousted the longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak.”
Despite that repression – or, more accurately, because of it – the Obama administration has lavished the regime with aid, money and weapons, just as the U.S. Government did for decades in order to prop up Hosni Mubarak. When Sisi took power in a coup, not only did the U.S. Government support him but it praised him for restoring “democracy.” Since then, the U.S. has repeatedly sent arms and money to the regime as its abuses became more severe. As The New York Timesdelicately put it yesterday, “American officials . . . signaled that they would not let their concerns with human rights stand in the way of increased security cooperation with Egypt.”
None of that is new: a staple of U.S. foreign policy has long been to support heinous regimes as long as they carry out U.S. dictates, all in order to keep domestic populations in check and prevent their views and beliefs (which are often averse to the U.S.) from having any effect on the actions of their own government. Just today, the American and Egyptian governments jointly issued a lengthy statement on a meeting between Secretary of State John Kerry and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry which it said was “based on the shared belief that it is necessary to deepen the Egypt-U.S. bilateral relationship to advance our shared interest after almost four decades of close partnership and cooperation.” While Kerry suggested in the meeting that severe repression may not be strategically shrewd, the official statement did not even reference, let alone condemn, the regime’s human rights abuses: credit for not pretending to care, I suppose.
[The U.S. media pretended to be on the side of Tahir Square democracy protesters despite decades of support from the American Government for Mubarak. Recall that in 2009 Hillary Clinton pronounced: “I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family.” A WikiLeaks cable, anticipating the first meeting between Obama and Mubarak in 2009, emphasized that “the Administration wants to restore the sense of warmth that has traditionally characterized the U.S.-Egyptian partnership” and that “the Egyptians want the visit to demonstrate that Egypt remains America’s ‘indispensible [sic] Arab ally.’” The cable noted that “[intelligence] Chief Omar Soliman and Interior Minister al-Adly keep the domestic beasts at bay, and Mubarak is not one to lose sleep over their tactics.”]
The Leader of the Free World’s long and clear history of lavishing the world’s most repressive regimes with money and weapons is usually carried out with a bit of stealth, so that its inspiring, self-flattering rhetoric about Supporting Freedom and Democracy – used to justify invasions and other forms of imperial domination – will be credible to its domestic media and population (even if to nobody else in the world). But this week, the U.S. Government not only proudly touted its sending of weapons to the Cairo regime, but published a video celebrating it.
Not only the U.S. but also its closest western allies are supplying Sisi with weapons. Just last week, the UK “quietly resumed multimillion-pound arms deals with” that government, including “arms sales to Egypt’s autocratic regime worth 48.8 million pounds ($76.3 million),” while in February“French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian visited Egyptian capital Cairo . . . to ink a deal for the sale of military hardware worth up to $6 billion.” These are the very same countries, of course, which endlessly claim to find human rights violations to be so deeply disturbing (when carried out by the governments that don’t obey them) that they have to fight wars to end them.
Still, explicitly celebrating videos of a tyrant parading his U.S.-supplied military might over the citizens whom he’s oppressing: that has to be a new low. It doesn’t even make sense from the perspective of the typical U.S. strategy of pretending to pressure its tyrannical allies to improve on the human rights front. Something like this is so extreme, so blatant, that it might even run the risk of having U.S. journalists who constantly believe that the U.S. government is opposed to repression and autocracy (in the context of non-compliant countries such as Iran, Russia, Libya, China and Venezuela) to ponder for a second or two whether that’s actually true or whether it’s pure propaganda.