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Trump Should Break the American Tradition of Ignoring Egypt’s Abuse of Its People

In my new piece at The Hill today, I argue that U.S. policy toward Egypt needs to be put on an honest footing. The U.S. treats Egypt as an ally, while playing down its authoritarianism. I argue for the need to confront Egypt about its violation of individual rights. Shortly after submitting the piece, I read an article in the New York Times about today’s meeting between Egypt’s president and Trump. The article previews what to expect from Trump. The headline: “In a Shift, Trump Will Move Egypt’s Rights Record to the Sidelines.”

So here’s a postscript to my essay at The Hill. If that preview of Trump’s approach is accurate, it’s not a shift, but a doubling down of the established approach.  

In my piece I describe U.S. policy up until now as turning a blind eye to Egypt’s authoritarianism, offering at most some perfunctory bureaucratic nagging. Here’s a snapshot of what I mean: President George W. Bush tried to pressure Egypt’s then dictator Hosni Mubarak, but in the end the Bush administration gave up and endorsed him. President Barack Obama endorsed Mubarak amid protests during the Arab Spring, then called for him to leave. Obama then endorsed the electoral win of the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, whom the military later ousted in a coup. Obama refused to call it a coup, but tried to impose some limits on arms sales, before giving up on that.

In my article I argue that Trump should break with his predecessors and call out Egypt’s authoritarianism, and I sketch out what that means. But I conclude by expressing doubt that Trump will take such steps. Perhaps more than doubt was called for. The Times reports that Trump will go further in playing down the issue of individual rights, effectively taking it off the public agenda. The Times describes that as a shift from Bush and Obama, but I regard them as essentially disregarding Egypt’s authoritarian character. The approach Trump is apparently taking would be, in substance, more of the same.