Guest Editorial

Muddled Egypt policy


When both the Egyptian military and supporters of the country’s ousted president accuse the United States of betrayal, it’s tempting to think the Obama Administration must be doing something right. But the breadth of the discontent may simply reflect the administration’s inconsistent and sometimes incoherent policy, before and after the military deposed Mohammed Morsi last month.

Last week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that Egyptian armed forces were “restoring democracy” when they overthrew Mr. Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood leader who was elected president only last year. That comment added insult to the injury of the administration’s refusal to describe the ouster as a military coup — a description that would have triggered a suspension of U.S. aid. President Obama has delayed delivery to Egypt of four fighter jets, a token expression of disapproval.

That the United States would continue its annual infusion of $1.5 billion in mostly military aid to Egypt was never in serious doubt, given the role the aid plays in bolstering the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. Even so, Mr. Kerry’s comment was unjustified and offensive. The administration had treated Mr. Morsi’s removal as a fait accompli, but stopped short of accepting its legitimacy.

Ironically, Gen. Abdel Fattah Sisi, the head of Egypt’s armed forces, denounced the United States for not embracing what he called a popular uprising against Mr. Morsi. He suggested the White House was remiss in not pressuring Mr. Morsi to reach out to his political opponents. “You turned your back on the Egyptians, and they won’t forget that,” he said.

The administration feels whipsawed between these two complaints. But both have validity. Washington should have been more vocal in criticizing Mr. Morsi’s high-handedness, not only because he violated democratic norms but also because his actions were tempting intervention by the armed services.

Once Mr. Morsi was removed, the American response — that it was “deeply concerned” by his overthrow — was short on appropriate indignation. The administration further undermined its credibility when it reacted with muted criticism to attacks on protesters in which scores of people were killed.

The United States is redoubling its efforts to promote compromise in Egypt. This country can’t micromanage political developments, but with a more disciplined message it will have a better chance of nudging all parties in Egypt toward what Secretary Kerry calls an “inclusive” political evolution.

— Los Angeles Times