About a year ago, Secretary of State John F. Kerry said that the Egyptian military’s July 2013 overthrow was “restoring democracy.” With thousands killed and tens of thousands imprisoned since then, you’d think Mr. Kerry would have reversed course by now.
But he hasn’t. In fact, on Tuesday Mr. Kerry was at it again.
“I want to thank the people of Egypt for their hard work in transitioning to a democracy through their election,” Mr. Kerry said at a Cairo press conference. The talk was focused on the Gaza crisis, and Mr. Kerry clearly did not have to include the praise. Yet he did anyway.
The past year has been littered with Mr. Kerry’s flattery of the regime. In November, a day before former President Mohamed Morsi was brought to court, Mr. Kerry said in Cairo that the democratic “road map is being carried out to the best of our perception.” Just last month, Mr. Kerry labeled Egypt’s farcical election, in which coup-maker Abdel Fatah al-Sissi won 97 percent of the vote, “historic,” and pledged to deliver Apache helicopters “very, very soon.” He added that Mr. al-Sissi “gave me a very strong sense of his commitment” to human rights.
Here is what’s happened in Egypt since Mr. Kerry’s first statements: The regime has murdered well more than 2,000 Egyptians. It has orchestrated mass trials and sentenced hundreds to death. Nongovernmental organizations have been raided. Journalists have been threatened and at least 40,000 arrested. Torture, according to Amnesty International, is rampant, and up to 74 people have been dumped into a prison cell. “They hurt him,” the father of Ahmed Ibrahim, who died in police custody, said, “then threw him out like garbage.” As a comparison, Augusto Pinochet’s notorious regime in Chile in the 1970s killed around 3,000 civilians.
One political prisoner, Ahmed Maher, wrote a heartbreaking op-ed in The Post in June. He addressed Mr. Kerry directly:
No one can voice an opinion anymore, Mr. Kerry. When anyone speaks about the wrong direction the country is taking or the violations of human rights or the oppression that is increasing every day, the consequences are death or imprisonment or, at the very least, the tarnishing of one’s reputation in the media. Yes, there is a new constitution, but no one criticizes any of its articles because the authorities detained its critics before the constitution was passed…
Unfortunately, your statements in November, along with the U.S. decision to resume aid last month, are being interpreted in Egypt as support for this military regime, and they encourage it to further its oppression and tyranny.
Mr. Kerry’s statements are not just wrong; they’re also perplexing. The State Department clearly prioritizes a strategic alliance with Egypt over human rights. Yet Mr. Kerry acts as if there’s no trade-off involved. As a result, some, including The Post’s deputy editorial page editor Jackson Diehl, have argued that there’s a Kerry “bubble” — in which he’s sees the Middle East “on its way to a stunning series of breakthroughs” due to his diplomacy.
If that’s true, the events of the past few weeks should shock him back to reality. Israel’s war in Gaza has cost the deaths of hundreds of Palestinian civilians, including many children; Iraq has destabilized; Afghanistan was minutes away from a coup d’etat. And Egypt remains the most oppressive in its recent history, aided in part by John Kerry’s undying public advocacy for Mr. al-Sissi.