BY NOW the spectacle of Secretary of State John F. Kerry fawning over the Egyptian regime of Abdel Fatah al-Sissi and ignoring its massive violations of human rights has become familiar, if no less disturbing. On Sunday Mr. Kerry was at it again in Cairo, saying at a news conference that he had “reiterated . . . our strong support for Egypt as it undertakes significant reforms.” He said that he had discussed with Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry “the essential role of a vibrant civil society, a free press, due process under the law.” But he made no mention of the regime’s ongoing campaign to crush all remnants of those institutions — which, according to numerous human rights monitors, amounts to the worst repression Egypt has seen in more than a half-century.
Mr. Kerry might have spared a word for Mohamed Soltan and Ahmed Douma, political prisoners who were hospitalized days before his visit after long hunger strikes. Mr. Soltan, a dual American and Egyptian citizen, is accused of “spreading false information” but has never been tried; he is described by supporters as critically ill. A graduate of Ohio State University, he returned to Egypt last year and was arrested at his family home when police came looking for his father, an official in the elected Islamist government against which Mr. Sissi led a military coup. Mr. Douma, a liberal blogger, was arrested and sentenced to prison last December along with activists Ahmed Maher and Mohammed Adel for violating a law banning protests.
Mr. Kerry could have raised the case of Sanaa Seif, a 20-year-old member of a renowned family of secular pro-democracy activists, who was arrested July 21 for protesting the imprisonment of her brother, the blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah. Ms. Seif, whose trial, like that of Mr. Soltan, was postponed the day before Mr. Kerry’s visit, is also on a hunger strike, as are scores of other political prisoners. Many of them are secular liberals who helped lead Egypt’s 2011 revolution and fought to establish a democracy, only to be jailed by a regime that Mr. Kerry said “remains a key partner for the United States.”
By postponing the trials of Ms. Seif and Mr. Soltan, the regime at least spared Mr. Kerry the humiliation of his June trip to Cairo. Then the secretary of state called for the release of three respected journalists working for Al Jazeera’s English-language channel. The next day they were sentenced to long prison sentences on the absurd charge of aiding terrorists. Mr. Kerry issued a statement of protest, but the three men — including Australian Peter Greste and Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, a dual Egyptian-Canadian citizen — are still in jail.
Rather than refer to political prisoners, Mr. Kerry agreed with Mr. Sissi that “the central issue to Egypt’s future is economic.” That facile conclusion overlooks the fact that substantial reform in Egypt — from the reduction of subsidies to the attraction of foreign investment — won’t be workable under a regime that holds thousands of political prisoners and denies basic rights. By failing to challenge Egypt’s new authoritarianism, Mr. Kerry is helping to ensure that the country will remain poor, unstable and a breeding ground for extremism — and that the United States will be perceived as an enemy by Egyptians seeking genuine change.