ON THE afternoon of Jan. 24, a young Egyptian poet and political activist joined other members of the secular Socialist Alliance Party in peacefully attempting to lay flowers in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in memory of those killed in the 2011 revolution. According to witnesses and videos, masked police fired birdshot into the group from behind at close range; Shaimaa al-Sabbagh , the mother of a 5-year-old, died in the arms of a friend. After heart-rending photos of her bloody face spread across social media, public outrage surged, and the regime of Abdel Fatah al-Sissi felt compelled to respond. In a letter to The Post, Egypt’s ambassador to Washington disputed our description of Ms. Sabbagh’s death as Muslim Brotherhood propaganda and said, “A thorough independent investigation is underway to bring her killers to justice.”
Now the nature of that investigation is becoming clear. The first of those charged in the Tahrir Square incident are due to appear Saturday in court — but they are not the police who opened fire. Instead, 14 are members of Ms. Sabbagh’s moderate political party; three are witnesses who were in nearby restaurants and cafes when the shooting occurred and who subsequently gave statements. All have been charged with participating in an unauthorized protest under a law imposed by the Sissi regime, and they face multiyear sentences in prison.
One of those accused is Azza Soliman , one of Egypt’s best-known women activists and a founder of the Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance. She was sitting in a restaurant with her family when she witnessed Ms. Sabbagh’s killing. In addition to submitting a statement to authorities, Ms. Soliman posted an account of the event on her Facebook page and gave several interviews to Western journalists. Now she could join the numerous leading liberal activists already imprisoned on charges of violating the protest law — even though she did not participate in the attempted flower-laying.
“The rule of law is becoming more and more meaningless and more and more weak,” she told the New York Times. “The police are sending a message that ‘nobody can judge the police, we can do anything.’ ”
Prosecutors also have brought charges against a policeman for shooting Ms. Sabbagh. However, the officer has not been named, and the charge brought against him is not for murder but a lesser manslaughter count. No court date has been announced. Egyptian human rights activists say they know of only one confirmed conviction of a policeman for killing a civilian since 2011. The Sissi regime’s record suggests that Ms. Soliman is much more likely to go to prison than is the masked man who shot Ms. Sabbagh.
None of this prevented President Obama from phoning Mr. Sissi on Tuesday to say that he had released military aid to Egypt that had been held up because of human rights restrictions imposed by Congress. A statement said Mr. Obama overrode the requirements, including that Egypt hold parliamentary elections and take “steps to protect and advance the rights of women,” “in the interest of U.S. national security.” It didn’t explain what U.S. interest is served by backing a regime that engages in the brutal and lawless oppression of women such as Shaimaa al-Sabbagh and Azza Soliman.