Egypt Fights ISIS—Obama Cuts Off Egypt

Barack Obama, John Kerry, Samantha Power (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Again, those disturbing questions about whose side the president is on.

A disturbing report by Avi Issacharoff, one of Israel’s leading Middle East analysts, notes that Egypt is now under assault by ISIS from two directions—from its own Sinai Peninsula to the northeast and from the state of Libya, or what’s left of it, to the West.

It was last month that 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians living in Libya were kidnapped by ISIS and subjected to a mass beheading on a beach. In response to that violent episode, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi ordered airstrikes against ISIS in Libya.

And in Sinai, Egyptian forces trying to tame the region have been hit by at least three ISIS terror attacks just last week. The trouble, Issacharoff notes, is thatprecisely during these difficult days for the Egyptians, Washington is delaying military assistance deliveries to Cairo . . .”

The Obama administration has held a deep grudge against the government ever since Sisi, backed by a massive popular revolt, overthrew Egypt’s short-lived Muslim Brotherhood regime in July 2013. The administration reacted by embargoing arms—even though Egypt had been a longstanding U.S. ally and Sisi’s is a nonradical, anti-terror government.

It was Sisi who, when recently addressing an audience of Sunni clerics at Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, called for a more moderate Islam that would not “want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants.”

Soon after, Sisi took the unprecedented step for an Egyptian leader of attending mass at a Coptic church.

Sisi also appears likely to keep the peace between Egypt and Israel. The two countries are tacitly collaborating against terror both in Sinai and Gaza, as Sisi cracks down hard on a common enemy—Hamas.

None of this is meant to say that Sisi is an angel who has brought democracy to Egypt by waving a magic wand. Seemingly, though, he deserves better treatment from Washington.

Things did seem to be improving last September when Washington said it was going through with a sale of ten Apache helicopters to Egypt.

But since then, says Issacharoff, Washington:

Has been making it increasingly difficult for Cairo to make additional military purchases.

For example, the US is delaying the shipment of tanks, spare parts and other weapons that the army desperately needs in its war against Islamic State.

So why is it? Why is an administration that seemingly has made fighting ISIS one of its missions choking off a would-be friendly state under ISIS assault?

The administration’s coziness with the Brotherhood—the incubus of modern Sunni terror, subject of a possible imminent crackdown in Britain—is well known (see, for instance, here and here). Thus, is the punishment for overthrowing a Brotherhood regime—even when that overthrow was backed by the most massive popular protest in history—getting thrown to the dogs amid an ISIS siege?

“According to an Egyptian official,” says Issacharoff, “the formal explanation [for the arms cutoff] is that Cairo does not respect human rights.”

As mentioned, Sisi has not transformed beleaguered Egypt into the Arab world’s first model democracy. Still, the idea that Egypt is being punished for human-rights failings is peculiar especially in light of reports of severe abuses by U.S.- (and Iran-) supported Shiite militias fighting ISIS in Iraq.

ABC now reports that “U.S.-trained and armed Iraqi military units, the key to the American strategy against ISIS, are under investigation for committing some of the same atrocities as the terror group...” Compared to such forces, let alone the Iranian regime itself, Sisi’s government is indeed a very mild human rights culprit (not to mention Egypt’s deposed Muslim Brotherhood regime, which was hardly a human rights beacon).

The situation is also parallel in some respects to the administration’s arms cutoff to Israel while it was fighting Hamas in Gaza last summer. That move may have been prompted by Palestinian civilian casualties, and the U.S.-Israeli defense relationship was eventually resumed. Still, a similar message came through: that being a U.S.- and Western-aligned country that is fighting terror is no guarantee of sympathy from the Obama administration.

The administration’s strange behavior at present—supporting ISIS-fighting forces on one front that are just as barbaric as ISIS; denying support to much more moderate ISIS-fighting forces on another front—can perhaps be explained in terms of moral confusion, of difficulty  distinguishing between friends and enemies. Or perhaps in terms of something darker.

In any case, Egypt, the largest and, in some ways most important, Arab country and a would-be ally of civilization, is now in acute distress.