Fresh from attacking President Trump for congratulating Vladimir Putin over his re-election, the mainstream media now tut-tuts Trump for congratulating Egypt’s Abdel Fatah al-Sissi. For example, the Washington Post’s story notes, pointedly, that “Barack Obama declined to invite Sissi to the White House because of concerns about his human rights record.”
However one views Trump’s call to Putin ( this was my take), Sissi stands in a very different position. Unlike Russia, Egypt is not our adversary — it is our ally. Unlike Russia, Egypt has not invaded its neighbors. Unlike Russia, Egypt is not destabilizing the Middle East.
Imagine if Egypt were to resemble its neighbor Libya or its one-time ally Syria. The consequences for the region would be devastating, and both Europe and the U.S. would feel the effects. Sissi stands in the way of that outcome.
Is Egypt a democracy? No. Should we want Sissi to take steps to make it more democratic? Ideally, yes. But to the extent that we want to move Sissi in this direction, he needs to know we are on his side. Thus, Trump’s phone call is compatible with a policy that nudges Sissi in democratic directions, if that’s the way to go.
Egypt was no more democratic in 2014 than it is now. And Sissi’s overthrow of Egypt’s democratically elected president, to Obama’s dismay, was still fairly current. But Obama congratulated him anyway, and properly so.
In an apples-to-oranges comparison, the Washington Post’s story on Trump’s call observes that Obama didn’t invite Sissi to the White House. It declines to make an apples-to-apples comparison and inform its readers that Obama responded to Sissi’s last political triumph the same way that Trump has responded to this one.