John F. Kerry. had better bring his A-game when he takes the field as the new secretary ofstate on Monday. The “Arab Spring” may be headed for a fall in Egypt, threatening what remains of the Middle East’s fragile stability. If the United States is still the world’s pre-eminent superpower, Mr. Kerry should show what that means by threatening to suspend U.S. aid unless battling factions come to the negotiating table — and fast.
With 20 U.S. F-16 fighter planes and 200 Abrams tanks ready for delivery to Cairo as well as $1.5 billion in annual aid, Mr. Kerry will have leverage over the turmoil in Egypt that outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not use. It’s time someone did. The United States has generously shared its treasure with allies who appear to share its reverence for liberty. In the case of Egypt, generosity has been rewarded with duplicity.
The administration’s efforts in Egypt have been muddled. An apparent fever for democracy has emerged, along with anger over generations of authoritarian rule, and the ensuing violence is still flaring after two years. The latest outbreak of street clashes makes clear that Egyptians are unwilling to allow President Mohammed Morsi to prevail in swapping Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship with his own, Muslim Brotherhood version.
The latest clashes between street protesters and authorities have resulted in at least 60 deaths, most occurring in the coastal city of Port Said. They were triggered on Saturday when an Egyptian court handed down death sentences to 21 persons involved in a riot at a soccer game on Feb. 1, 2012, that left 74 dead.
Fearing he could become a victim of the same sort of violent convulsions that ended the Mubarak era, Mr. Morsi imposed a curfew on Monday over three provinces where the violence has been most extreme. Thus far, protesters have ignored the measure, vowing not to bow to his authority. The clashes have since spread to Cairo’s Tahrir Square, ground zero for the uprising in 2011.
The naivete of President Obama’s Mideast policy toward the results of an unfettered revolution hijacked by Islamic extremists stands exposed. Where the president’s experts saw a reprise of the rapid democratization that swept Eastern Europe more than two decades ago, more sober-minded observers feared the predominant Islamist flavor of the uprisings could wind up resembling the religious extremism that expelled the Shah from Iran in 1979. Their fears, unfortunately, are proving well-founded. Now after years of cheerleading, or “leading from behind,” little has been heard from the White House besides muffled support for “serious calls for national dialogue to avoid further violence.”
Egypt’s army chief, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, warned in a speech to military academy students on Tuesday that “the continuation of this struggle between the different political forces … could lead to the collapse of the state.” Before that dreaded outcome occurs, the newly sworn-in Mr. Kerry should make clear that U.S. aid is contingent upon peaceful negotiation between Egypt’s Islamist president and secular organizations. Americans don’t want their hard-earned dollars used to pay for death on the Nile.