After meeting Egyptian ruler Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi on Jan. 20, Vice President Mike Pence told reporters that he had raised the cases of two Americans unjustly imprisoned in Cairo as well as the treatment of nongovernmental organizations and religious freedom. Those are all matters in which the Egyptian regime has egregiously violated human rights, while continuing to pocket more than $1 billion annually in U.S. aid. So it was good that Pence spoke up, but strange that he would repeatedly call Sissi a “friend.”

Pence also failed to comment on the bizarre travesty of democracy Sissi was enacting around his visit. Just before the vice president’s arrival, the strongman officially announced that he would be a candidate in the presidential election in March. Before Sissi’s announcement, two potentially potent rivals, former air force chief Ahmed Shafiq and Mohamed Anwar al-Sadat, the nephew of a former president, were driven out of the race. Shafiq was detained incommunicado until he yielded. Last Tuesday, another former senior military leader, Sami Anan, was arrested and forced to suspend his presidential candidacy just four days after announcing it.

The Trump administration ought to find Sissi’s actions worrying. He has failed to stabilize Egypt over the past half-decade, or to prevent the growth of a virulent Islamic State franchise in the Sinai Peninsula. He’s grossly mismanaged the economy, pushing megaprojects while driving away investors. Political repression has been the worst in Egypt’s modern history, with thousands killed or disappeared, tens of thousands imprisoned, and a once-lively media and civil society stifled.

The strongman’s base is steadily eroding. Without the support of much of the military elite, Sissi stands little chance of addressing the country’s worsening domestic problems or defeating the Islamic State. That makes him not a friend but a liability for the United States.

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