Tom Stevenson writes: It’s no secret that Hosni Mubarak’s regime was repressive. Yet although in its treatment of prisoners and many other ways besides, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s is worse, statesmen around the world praise its role in Egypt’s ‘democratic transition’. When John Kerry visited Cairo last year he reported that Sisi had given him ‘a very strong sense of his commitment to human rights’. These issues, he said, were ‘very much’ on Sisi’s mind. For more than thirty years it was US policy to support autocratic government in Egypt as a route to ‘regional security’. The US backed Mubarak’s regime until its very last days; even during the mass protests of January 2011, the US hoped Mubarak could survive if he made political concessions. Mubarak is gone, but the US Defense Department’s links with the Egyptian military – long-standing and solid – have remained. Officials are steadily restoring the flow of aid and equipment that was temporarily suspended in the wake of the coup: there is no serious ‘human rights’ issue for Washington.
The US is not alone in this. When Shinzo Abe visited Cairo last month he spoke of the ‘high esteem’ in which the Japanese government holds its relationship with Sisi, and pledged hundreds of millions of dollars in development loans. Diplomatic support from Europe, which suffered minor interruptions when the repression peaked late in the summer of 2013, has largely been restored. In addition to visiting the UN General Assembly, Sisi has been received on official visits to the Vatican, Davos, Rome and Paris: little or nothing has been said about routine human rights abuses, let alone the Rabaa massacre or the mass imprisonment and torture of dissidents.
When David Cameron held a meeting with Sisi in New York in September he spoke of ‘Egypt’s pivotal role in the region’ and its importance to British policy. ‘Both economically and in the fight against Islamist extremism’, he said, Egypt was a crucial ally and the UK was ‘keen to expand practical partnerships’. Cameron urged the president ‘to ensure human rights are respected’; he was much more specific on the point that Egyptian state debts to Britain’s international oil companies should be promptly repaid. The British embassy now issues reports with titles like ‘Egypt: Open for Business?’ and last month’s UK investment delegation to Cairo was the biggest in a decade. Western leaders – as Sisi well knows – have very little interest in upsetting Egypt, strategically located as it is between the world’s major energy-producing region and the developed world. The West appears to see no contradiction in supporting the ‘stability’ of the Sisi regime at a time when the Egyptian population is suffering from the extreme instability that comes with mass arrests and torture. [Continue reading…]