After the weekend’s horrific violence in Egypt, Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel telephoned their counterparts in Cairo to urge the interim government to step back from the brink. Mr. Hagel called again on Tuesday and spoke to Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, who ousted the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi from power as Egypt’s elected president. After the call, Mr. Hagel’s spokesman reported they discussed the need for an “inclusive reconciliation process.” On the ground, there’s scant evidence of such a process.
Just the opposite seems to be the trajectory of the military leaders who seized power a month ago in what the Obama administration still refuses to call a coup. On Saturday, street protests in Cairo and elsewhere ended in the deaths of more than 80 Muslim Brotherhood members and injuries to hundreds more. It was the second mass killing of Islamists since the coup on July 3. On Monday, the authorities arrested two moderate Islamist leaders and took actions that could foreshadow a still-deeper crackdown and declaration of a state of emergency. There was a brief respite Tuesday when the European Union’s senior foreign policy official, Catherine Ashton, was taken to see Mr. Morsi at an undisclosed location in the middle of the night. She reported that he is well, but there was no sign that the interim government intends to back off plans to prosecute him on dubious charges of espionage and murder.
President Obama has been cautious, urging dialogue and delaying the delivery of four F-16s to the Egyptian military as a sign of displeasure. The administration appears reluctant to take more decisive action, such as tightening the flow of other aid, preferring instead to warn the interim government of the consequences of further violence and use the threat as leverage. But there’s little sign that Gen. Sissi is listening to the protests from Washington and elsewhere. The leverage doesn’t seem to be having much impact. The administration soon will face starker choices.