March 19, 2015
Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi continues to reach out to America for
help in rallying the forces of good against a rising tide of evil—the
ever-spreading virus of militant Islam.
And so far we are still snubbing him.
As I have written before in this space, Sisi appears to be a surprising
successor to the heroic British leader who first rallied his own people, then
appealed to the New World to join not only his, but humanity's, cause against
the Nazi menace—which is in many ways similar to the Islamist one today.
After meeting with Sisi last week at the giant Egypt Economic Development
Conference (EEDC) in the southern Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Secretary of
State John Kerry said on March 14, "I really expect a decision very
soon," about restoring the full $1.3 billion in annual U.S. military aid,
largely suspended since the ouster of former President Mohammed Morsi at
widespread popular demand in July 2013.
While swearing his own support for Sisi's program of economic liberalization,
Kerry could not say the renewal of the whole aid package would be approved.
Given that Kerry has seemed more positive about Sisi than his boss, President
Obama, for some time—with little effect -- his influence may not be decisive.
Meanwhile, Sisi announced on March 16 that the EEDC—featuring 3,500
delegates from 52 countries, among them 50 heads of state--had produced an
impressive $60 billion in direct investment and soft loans, all desperately
needed after 4 years of political upheaval and economic destruction.
The action was led by
The Obama administration backed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood organization
during the Arab Spring, when they rapidly established an elected Islamist
dictatorship, prompting the largest demonstrations in history.
The U.S. and Western media have lost credibility with most Egyptians for
their criticism of Sisi for cracking down on the MB and other Islamists since
taking power as well as elements of the secular opposition who refuse to seek
permits to stage demonstrations, a measure imposed to limit the chaos that has
prevailed since the 2011 overthrow of long-time president and U.S. ally, Hosni
Mubarak, plus extreme behavior by the judiciary, which Sisi insists must remain
The criticism has ignored or minimized a terrorist campaign to overthrow Sisi—himself
freely-elected in June 2014—by the once ostensibly (but never really) peaceful
MB, which openly backs the global jihad.
But Sisi's critics were silent when Morsi, during his year in power, openly
smashed opposition to his rule and declared himself above the Constitution and
the courts. American aid then actually increased—but has been slashed under
Sisi, who gained twice as many votes in 2014 as Morsi did in 2012.
MB television channels have lately broadcast calls to murder Sisi and
journalists who back him, as well as a demand by a newly announced group, the
Revolutionary Punishment Movement, that all foreigners leave Egypt by the end of
February--or else be "hunted down."
All this has driven the American-trained Sisi—very reluctantly—to
radically diversify his lines of military supply, signing a $3 billion
purchasing agreement with
In recent interviews with Bret
Baier on Fox News and with Lally
Weymouth of the Washington Post, the Egyptian leader—known for his
calm and quiet demeanor—pleaded for the return of America's aid to his country
to fight our common enemy.
To Baier, he said in a polite near-whisper:
Let me say that the
Sisi also told Baier that he wants to form an Arab coalition to fight
I mean Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Kuwait,
Bahrain, Jordan, Egypt and other Arab countries can come together and form this
ready force that will be capable of defending our national security and
encounter all the potential dangers that we might face.
However, as he did when the
We have to admit that terrorism is now a major
threat not only to
Worse, he added, "We can also say that the map of terrorism extremism is
Indeed, ISIS has now spread beyond Syria and Iraq into northern Lebanon,
Egypt's northern Sinai, southern and northern Afghanistan, northwestern
Pakistan, Libya, the Philippines and elsewhere, while other al-Qaeda affiliates
are also strong in many of the same areas and beyond, even as evidence exists
that they cooperate as well as fight at times.
He includes the MB—the parent organization of all these groups—in the
same jihadi category.
Following on a courageous speech he gave at al-Azhar, the Vatican of Sunni
Muslim theology in
It is not a revolution against religion. On
the contrary, it is a revolution to support and reinstate the right meaning of
religion, the right presentation of what religion stands for as it stands for
tolerance, moderation, respect of the other, and appreciation of diversity.
Sisi is the only leader of a mainly Muslim nation to have dared confront the
establishment clerics, whose traditional teachings and interpretation of the
religion he believes give both textual sources and succor to the jihadis.
Reminded by Baier that he had written on Islam and democracy while a student
at the U.S. Army War College (in 2006), Sisi was asked if he thought the two
It's a very good question. Allow me to say to
you that real Islam gives complete freedom to the human being to choose not only
the person who is going through to rule the country, but the freedom to have a
faith and to believe in God in the first place or not to believe in God in the
His defense of the rights of atheists—repeated in his talk with
This is reflected in recent popular campaigns in Egypt against atheism and
blasphemy, driven in part by Dar al-Ifta, the authority that issues official
fatwas, resulting in a number of mob actions and even arrests and convictions of
allegedly disbelieving Egyptians. Dar al-Ifta's staff were present when al-Sisi
delivered his address at al-Azhar, an appeal that, along with his crackdown on
extremists, may well cost him his life.
Weymouth's Washington Post interview struck many of the same themes,
but yielded one truly new revelation: that Sisi talks to Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu "a lot." That probably makes theirs the closest
relationship between any Egyptian and Israeli leaders to date—and indeed
security cooperation between the two countries has increased enormously in the
face of shared threats from Hamas, ISIS and their fellow-travelers—not to
mention a probably soon to be nuclear-armed Iran.
Will that intensely personal cooperation continue after Netanyahu vowed, on
the eve of his successful reelection March 17, not to permit the establishment
of a Palestinian state (since modified to a statement that, given the unity
agreement between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority and ISIS moving ever
closer to Israel via Syria, it is simply not possible now)?
And will Kerry have news of an Egyptian-American spring—after the
disastrous Arab one—soon?
Or shall we continue to ignore Sisi's desperate pleas for help against the
gathering jihadi storm?
Raymond Stock, a
Shillman-Ginsburg Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum and a former Assistant
Professor of Arabic and Middle East Studies at Drew University, spent twenty
years in Egypt, and was deported by the Mubarak regime in 2010.