4 of the Biggest Cheerleaders for Egypt's Shockingly Repressive New Regime
On May 16, an Egyptian court sentenced Mohamed Morsi, the first democratically elected president of Egypt, to death. The Islamist former president, who came out of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, was convicted of escaping prison during the Egyptian uprising that overthrew Hosni Mubarak, the U.S.-backed authoritarian leader of the country.
Over 100 others, including an academic and an Islamic cleric, were sentenced to death in a number of court cases that day. Morsi’s death sentence received the most attention for good reason. In June 2012, he became Egypt’s first freely elected leader. But amid popular discontent with his rule, the powerful Egyptian military stepped in and overthrew him in a coup. Morsi was arrested, thrown in jail and held incommunicado before being put on trial.
It is unclear if capital punishment will actually be carried out. The death sentence will be reviewed by Egypt’s top religious scholar, and the rulings could be appealed. Nevertheless, the death sentences are the latest shocking example of how Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has consolidated his repressive rule by using death sentences, mass arrests, sexual violence and harsh restrictions on political protest. Egypt’s revolt, which called for democracy, dignity and social justice, is being crushed under Sisi’s boot.
Sisi has been supported by the West despite loads of evidence that he is presiding over a regime that is violating human rights. Since Sisi rose to power, there have been four mass death sentences handed out to thousands of political opponents. In May, the International Federation for Human Rights released a damning report documenting widespread sexual violence at the hands of security forces, including sexual harassment, “virginity tests,” rape, sexual assault, and electrocution of genitals.
While human rights groups have condemned his regime, Sisi has a lot going for him, including the unstinting support of Western nations. In March, President Obama lifted a hold on U.S. weapons flowing to the Egyptian military, which was originally put in place after Egyptian security forces crushed a pro-Morsi sit-in by killing at least 900 people. The Obama administration is now set to give the Egyptian regime fighter jets, missiles and tanks. Western officials from the U.S. and Europe have also voiced rhetorical support to Sisi, casting him as a bulwark against terrorism in a volatile region.
Here are four top Western officials who have given strong support for Sisi’s regime.
1. John Kerry. The Secretary of State is the face of American foreign policy. So people took notice when Kerry, in the immediate aftermath of the military coup, strongly endorsed the intervention. The military takeover was actually about “restoring democracy,” Kerry said in August 2013. “The military was asked to intervene by millions and millions of people...The military did not take over, to the best of our judgment — so far.”
In 2014, Kerry gave more strong endorsements of Sisi’s regime, which has locked up tens of thousands of people, tortured many of them and driven the Muslim Brotherhood, the nation’s largest opposition group, underground.
Days after Sisi was elected during a process called “repressive” by a U.S. election observer, Kerry visited Egypt and said he was confident that Sisi’s government would get full U.S. military aid, which had, at the time, been held up. In July 2014, Kerry said he wanted “to thank the people of Egypt for their hard work in transitioning to a democracy through their election.”
Kerry made good on his words when he signed a legal waiver this year allowing the U.S. to give Egypt billions in military aid in the name of national security.
2. Tony Blair. The former British leader has kept up his involvement in Middle East politics since leaving office. For eight years, he served as Special Envoy to the Quarter, the group of major powers working to bring Israeli and Palestinian leaders together for negotiations.
He’s also an economic advisor to the Egyptian regime led by Sisi. He has encouraged governments to back Sisi’s regime. Blair backed the coup in 2013, saying, “I am a strong supporter of democracy. But democratic government doesn't on its own mean effective government. Today efficacy is the challenge."
In an interview in January 2014, Blair said that “the Muslim Brotherhood tried to take the country away from its basic values of hope and progress. The army have intervened, at the will of the people, but in order to take the country to the next stage of its development, which should be democratic. We should be supporting the new government in doing that."
Blair offered more support for the coup and the military-backed regime in a speech on the Middle East given in April 2014. He said “we should mobilize the international community in giving Egypt and its new president as much assistance as we can so that the country gets a chance not to return to the past but to cross over to a better future.”
3. David Cameron. The current leader of Britain has also endorsed Sisi’s rule. He has repeatedly lauded Egypt for fighting terrorism.
After the first Cameron-Sisi meeting in 2014, Cameron’s press office released a statement outlining how “the prime minister stressed Egypt’s pivotal role in the region, both economically and in the fight against Islamist extremism.” He sounded similar notes after the Islamic State beheaded 21 Egyptian migrant workers in Libya earlier this year. There was, of course, no mention of how Egypt’s brutal crackdown on Islamists could be fueling terrorism within Egypt.
Cameron has done more than just support Sisi with words. In March 2014, he ordered a British investigation into the Muslim Brotherhood, the pan-Islamist movement that has a presence in most Arab countries. Cameron said he ordered the inquiry to “understand what this organisation is, what it stands for, what its beliefs are in terms of the path of extremism and violent extremism.” The Muslim Brotherhood is a largely peaceful movement, though, and its Egyptian branch has sworn off violence.
Britain also supplies the Egyptian army with weapons. In 2013, the British government exported over $55 million worth of weapons to Egypt.
4. Francois Hollande. The French prime minister has held talks with Sisi on how to combat terrorism, and has also claimed that Egypt is on the path toward democracy.
Like the U.S. and Britain, France sells military equipment to Egypt. Hollande’s 2014 meeting with Sisi was also about paving the way toward French military exports. In February 2015, as Egypt was bombing Libya, Hollande’s government signed a $5.9 billion deal to export 24 fighter jets to Egypt.