SECRETARY OF State John F. Kerry has made clear that he is eager to certify that the Egyptian regime of Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sissi is “taking steps to govern democratically,” as Mr. Kerry is required to do by law before military aid to Egypt can be fully resumed. But Mr. Kerry conceded a few weeks ago that the generals “need to help us help them . . . by implementing some of the reforms that we’ve been talking to them about with respect to inclusivity, journalists, some of the arrests and so forth.”
Unfortunately for Mr. Kerry, Gen. Sissi — who recently announced that he will be a candidate in a presidential election next month — doesn’t appear inclined to be helpful. On Monday, an Egyptian court upheld three-year sentences for three of the country’s best-known political prisoners. Ahmed Maher and Mohammed Adel are founding members of the April 6 movement, a secular liberal group that led the demonstrations that brought down the regime of Hosni Mubarak in 2011; Ahmed Douma is another young pro-democracy activist. All three were convicted of protesting a law that bans public demonstrations not sanctioned by the government, a repressive statute, imposed by the military regime, that both Egyptian and foreign human rights groups say is at odds with Egypt’s constitution.
Numerous Egyptian civilian leaders who supported Gen. Sissi’s coup in July against the elected government of Mohamed Morsi, including his nominal opponent in the upcoming election, had called on the regime to pardon the three democrats and repeal the protest law. Instead, the government is preparing even tougher legislation. According to Egyptian news reports, the cabinet has approved two new “counterterrorism” laws that would legally define terrorist acts as including “preventing educational institutions from carrying out their work” — aimed at student protests — and “undermining the public order.”
The regime also is still persecuting the journalists to whom Mr. Kerry obliquely referred. Three Al Jazeera staffers, including citizens of Australia and Canada, have been jailed since Dec. 29 and are on trial for aiding a “terrorist group,” which is how the regime defines Mr. Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood. Human rights groups believe more than 16,000 people, including Mr. Morsi, have been detained by the regime ; more than 1,000 have been arrested under the anti-protest law.
The State Department issued a couple of statements deploring these developments. On Monday, it said the sentences for Mr. Maher, Mr. Adel and Mr. Douma run “counter to the Egyptian government’s commitment to fostering an open electoral environment and a transition process that protects the universal rights of all Egyptians.” Yet senior administration officials remain intent on issuing the certification following the presidential election because the legal language approved by Congress refers to the holding of elections.
That shouldn’t be possible — nor should it be tolerated by Congress. As Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said in January, “ If the military continues its repressive tactics, arresting democracy activists, and does not hold free and fair elections, the certifications will not be possible and U.S. aid will be cut off.” Mr. Kerry — and Gen. Sissi — must be held to that standard.
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