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U.S. Opinions: Washington

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On Egypt, Obama’s again all words without deeds

From an editorial published in Thursday’s Washington Post:

The Obama administration dispatched Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns to Cairo this week in an attempt to clarify to Egyptians where the United States stands on this month’s coup against the elected government of Mohammed Morsi. At a news conference, Mr. Burns delivered a clear message: The United States will “support an open, inclusive, tolerant democratic process” to restore civilian government; Egyptian authorities should refrain from “politically motivated arrests”; and a dialogue must begin with “all sides and all political parties” – meaning the ousted Muslim Brotherhood.

The problem is that Egypt’s generals are ignoring the message. Mr. Morsi, at least nine other top Muslim Brotherhood leaders and hundreds of activists continue to be imprisoned. The new, military-installed cabinet, which features coup leader Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sissi as deputy prime minister, includes no representatives of the Islamist parties that won 70 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections a year and a half ago.

Mr. Sissi himself is being glorified in state-run media as a national hero comparable to Gamal Abdel Nasser, the former military dictator who rose to power following a 1952 coup. Like the previous military regime, his has not hesitated to use violence to consolidate power. Scores of Egyptians protesting the coup have been shot dead by troops and military snipers.

This collapse of U.S. prestige and influence in Cairo is in part the result of a growing xenophobia that has been stoked by all Egyptian parties. But it also reflects consistent missteps by the Obama administration, which over the course of two years has repeatedly failed to speak up clearly against human rights abuses or to use the leverage of the $1.3 billion in annual U.S. aid delivered to the military. Despite a law requiring a suspension of aid to countries following a coup against an elected government, the administration is refusing to designate the coup as a coup and is proceeding with a new delivery of F-16s to the armed forces.

The generals’ position is logical: Why heed advice from Washington if rejecting it will not stop the flow of U.S. arms? Why respect a government whose rhetoric has no connection to its actions?

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