As someone who has watched the Egyptian people struggle against dictators for years, it is hard to fathom the fact that President Donald Trump will welcome Egypt’s brutal military leader, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, for a White House visit this week.
Eight years after Egyptians went to the streets to remove 30-year ruler Hosni Mubarak and only weeks after Algerians did the same to remove 20-year autocrat Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the White House is betting on Sisi. It’s an endorsement Egypt’s president-for-life will use to entrench his grip on power: Showing he has Trump’s enthusiastic support will help Sisi force any potential critics in the army or elsewhere to follow suit.
Sisi’s Oval Office photo-op will come just a week or two before Egypt holds a popular referendum on amendments to the constitution that would give Sisi an exception to term limits, allowing him to stay in office until 2034. The amendments will also give the military a constitutional right to intervene in politics and will tighten his grip over the judiciary. If the referendum is similar to Sisi’s second election in 2018, Egyptian voters—demoralized and cowed by years of brutal repression since the 2013 military coup—will largely stay home.
To be clear, amending the constitution is not about the security or prosperity of Egypt. It is Sisi’s attempt to develop a highly personalized form of power for himself and loyal military officers, sidelining other institutions and ending all meaningful accountability—a direct violation of his own promises. [Continue reading…]