Opinion writer


President Trump with Egyptian leader Abdel Fatah al-Sissi in New York in September 2017. (Brendan Smialowski/Agence France-Pressse/Getty Images)

The Working Group on Egypt, a bipartisan collection of foreign policy experts and human rights advocates including former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams, foreign policy scholar Robert Kagan, Stephen McInerney of the Project on Middle East Democracy and Tom Malinowski, former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor under President Barack Obama, have written an open letter to acting Secretary of State John Sullivan and to (before his announced departure) H.R. McMaster, the outgoing national security adviser.

In the letter, the eleven signatories write:

We write to you to express our concern about Egypt s upcoming presidential election, which begins March 26. This election is a charade. It is neither free nor democratic. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has eliminated all serious candidates and is now running against a virtual unknown who endorsed Sisi for a second term. The election will occur against a backdrop of massive human rights abuses and an active campaign against local and foreign media. We urge you not to treat this election as a legitimate expression of the Egyptian people’s will and to withhold praise or congratulations.

They go on: “This year’s presidential election will be even less free and fair than President al-Sisi’s flawed election in 2014, when he at least ran against a genuine opposition figure. This time al-Sisi has intimidated, detained, or prosecuted all five serious candidates.” Moreover, “In recent months, Egypt’s already abysmal human rights record has further deteriorated. Unprecedented abuses by the Egyptian security forces include extrajudicial killings, detention of tens of thousands of political prisoners, widespread torture, and forced disappearances. The ongoing crackdown on civil society and journalists worsens, with Egypt becoming one of the three worst jailers of journalists worldwide. The Sisi regime has also begun attacking foreign journalists.” They remind McMaster and Sullivan, “Less than two months after Vice President Pence called for U.S. citizen Moustafa Kassem to be released after over four years of pretrial detention in Egypt, Sisi s prosecutors recommended that he and more than 700 codefendants receive the death penalty.”

Their concern that the United States might tout a Sisi “win” is well placed, especially in light of the president’s recent refusal to follow the “DO NOT CONGRATULATE” advice on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s sham election. Kagan, one of the co-chairs and a frequent opinion contributor to The Post, tells me, “Sisi claims to be battling radical Islamic terrorism, but he is actually encouraging it.  Violence and terrorism have been on the rise ever since Sisi took office, mostly because of his own harsh crackdown, which is radicalizing youth that was not previously violent.” While Trump has had nothing but praise for Sisi, Kagan warns, “He is conning the U.S. into supporting him by pointing to the radicals as the only alternative while he cracks down on all moderates.  And the con is working.” He argues, “American interests are best served by political reform in Egypt, not by the kind of brutal crackdown which Americans are funding to the tune of $1.3 billion a year.”

The signatories praise the administration for withholding “$195 million in military assistance due to concerns about human rights violations and harassment of American and Egyptian non-governmental organizations,” but they urge the administration to  “stand privately and publicly for the right of Egyptians to enjoy basic human rights as well as to choose their leaders in a free and fair electoral process, as laid out in their own 2014 constitution.” They reason: “Not only are these core values, but they are critical to building stability and prosperity in Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous nation.”

Unfortunately, McMaster is on his way out and Bolton has never been one to recognize that autocrats friendly to the United States do themselves and the United States no good by radicalizing their own population by repression. The real problem, however, remains the president who shows no comprehension of American values that have always (until now) been part and parcel of a successful U.S. foreign policy. We fear that on this one, the Egyptian people are on their own.