Arming Egypt: The U.S. must devise a more principled policy

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The United States has been on the wrong track since last July in its Egypt policy. Two new events may allow it to turn the corner toward a realistic approach consistent with American principles.

The Egyptians entered the Arab Spring in 2011 by ousting President Hosni Mubarak, part of a line of military presidents dating to 1952. They wrote a new constitution and held elections, selecting Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood as president. The military, led by Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, overthrew Mr. Morsi on July 3. Since then Mr. el-Sisi has retired from the army and is running as a civilian candidate for president.

The United States, cozy with the Egyptian military, keeps pretending that Egypt’s armed forces did not carry out a coup d’etat, since that would have required America to cut off $2 billion in annual aid.

But the worm may be turning. Egyptian courts outraged the country by sentencing hundreds of opposition members to death, most recently 683 in a 10-minute trial. Also, the Obama administration plans to sell 10 attack helicopters to the Egyptian military, on top of the arms it continued to sell it in spite of the coup.

Finally, Patrick J. Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who chairs a key Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee, was so angered by the capricious death sentences that he vowed Tuesday to block further military aid to Egypt, presumably until it returns to some semblance of justice and due process.

Reforms that should be required before Egypt’s aid is resumed include Mr. el-Sisi’s withdrawal from the presidential race, the release of Mr. Morsi from prison and proper hearings for those who were sentenced to death.

An undemocratic military government is not likely to last in the seething Middle East — nor is it good for Egypt or its supporters such as the United States.

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