It's increasingly evident that the military rulers of Egypt are determined to intimidate and silence their political opponents, whether they are members of the Muslim Brotherhood or secular Egyptians who believe the generals are betraying the spirit of the "Arab Spring." Yet the Obama administration continues to entertain the pious hope that Egypt is on the road to an inclusive democracy.
In recent days the military-backed government has declared the Brotherhood a terrorist organization — blaming it for an attack on a police headquarters for which another group claimed responsibility — and has seized the financial assets of hundreds of Brotherhood activists and other Islamist figures.
But the Brotherhood isn't the only target. Three leaders of the protests in 2011 that toppled President Hosni Mubarak have been sentenced to three years in prison for violating a law that criminalized street protests. And as part of an attempt to deny opposition groups publicity, authorities arrested four journalists from the satellite channel Al Jazeera English and charged them with "broadcasting false news."
The U.S. response to the continued crackdown has been polite to the point of pusillanimity. A State Department spokeswoman said the administration was "concerned" about the designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group and that recent actions by the Egyptian government "raise questions about the rule of law being applied impartially and equitably, and do not move Egypt's transition forward."
Inadequate as that statement is, it's an improvement over some past comments by Secretary of State John F. Kerry. Last summer Kerry suggested that the Egyptian military was "restoring democracy" when it deposed Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood member who was chosen president the previous year in a free and fair election. In November, after the U.S. suspended some aid to Egypt and delayed delivery of some weapons systems, Kerry said during a visit to Cairo that the action was "not a punishment."
The situation in Egypt is a textbook case of the tension between the United States' commitment to democracy and its more complicated strategic objectives. The sad truth is that U.S. military aid to Egypt is designed not to reward Egypt for adherence to democracy but to shore up the Arab-Israeli peace treaty and suppress terrorism in the Sinai Peninsula and elsewhere.
Even so, the Obama administration could be more consistent and forthright in insisting that the generals make good on their stated desire to follow a path to democracy. Clearly the current policy of trying not to offend them isn't working.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun