An Egyptian court on Tuesday convicted and sentenced to jail 43 nonprofit workers, including 16 Americans, in a case that has alarmed democracy advocates who fear a shrinking space for civil society more than two years after the country’s revolution.
The convictions, on charges of using foreign funds to foment unrest, threaten to further strain ties between Egypt’s.
That is not all. “Last week, [President Mohamed] Morsi submitted a bill to parliament that rights groups say would curtail their ability to operate in Egypt. Although Egypt’s judiciary is constitutionally separate from the Morsi-run executive branch, rights advocates say Tuesday’s verdict, coupled with the proposed law, will have a chilling effect on their operations”
There was outrage from conservatives on Capitol Hill. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) released a written statement that called on President Obama to impress upon the Morsi government that “this action, as well as other recent cases of political persecution of those criticizing the government, including a deeply flawed draft civil society law, and attempts to limit freedom of assembly and freedom of religion will negatively impact U.S.-Egyptian relations.” He promised legislative action on how U.S. aid should be doled out. (“We need to be careful not to undermine the significant cooperation between the U.S. military and the Egyptian Armed Forces, but we cannot continue to blindly throw U.S. taxpayer dollars at a government that almost every day is taking actions that will only prevent the democratic aspirations of the Egyptian people from being fulfilled and undermine Egypt’s long-term success”).
Likewise, Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) released a statement decrying the convictions as “an affront to the fundamental principles of human rights and rule of law.” They warned:
[T]his ruling would have significant negative implications on U.S-Egypt relations, and we urge the Obama Administration to condemn this conviction in the strongest possible terms. In light of today’s events, the Congress must conduct a comprehensive review of U.S. assistance to Egypt.
But don’t bank on that any time soon.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry proclaimed he was “deeply concerned.” Over at the State Department, the new spokeswoman and former campaign flack Jen Psaki meandered around the issue:
QUESTION: So to go back to Jill’s question, nothing in the Secretary’s statement which you read refers to any possible consequence to Egypt for what the Secretary described as a politically motivated trial with a result that is incompatible with the transition to democracy. Will there be any consequences, in terms of U.S. policy or funding or any other stance the U.S. Government takes for Egypt, for what the Secretary regards as a very flawed outcome here?
MS. PSAKI: You’re right. He does feel that it’s very flawed and has great concerns about it. The reason I wanted to talk a little bit about our funding and what we’ve provided is that it has a number of purposes, including being critical to our national security interests and the security in the region. So there’s nothing further to report or tell you on future funding. I don’t want to speculate on that from here.
QUESTION: It sounds like what you’re trying to do, though, is to imply that the funding won’t be cut off because it is for other purposes. Is that what you’re trying to suggest?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t want to get ahead of where we are. These – obviously this is a new verdict. There’s nothing new to report to you on plans at this stage.
Huh? It is the same old mush, and any betting person would conclude the administration will never present new ground rules for aid to Egypt.
Rubio, however, is right. We give about $1.3 billion in military aid, which is likely money well spent. The Egyptian military is the only responsible player in the mix, and one that in no way shape or form wants war with Israel. However, we are giving over $700 million in other aid that goes to the Muslim Brotherhood government. Can’t that be cut off or at least conditioned on a change in the NGO policies and progress on other matters? Psaki again, “I don’t want to speculate on decisions that will or won’t be made, whether they’re by Congress or by people in this building, because that’s a broad amount of speculation.” (That by the way is why professional foreign service people not political hacks should be at the Foggy Bottom podium.)
In short, no matter how outrageous Morsi’s behavior, the Obama administration has only blather. That is because we have no coherent policy for Egypt or any other country in the region. Obama has not figured out that threats not backed up by action are dangerous and that “soft power” means using our diplomatic and economic leverage to move nations in our direction. Instead, Kerry seems to think pleading with Russia, announcing his “deep concern” and a bunch of empty talk make for a Middle East policy. They do not.