In spite of a string of worrisome human rights and freedom of expression violations, the Obama administration is holding out hope that Egypt's government lead by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is still headed for democracy. State Department official Richard Stengel, under secretary of state for public diplomacy, wrote a blog post this week titled "Egypt’s Chilling Detour on the Path to Democracy," where he expressed grave concern about the three Al Jazeera journalists convicted and sentenced this week for "terrorism" by an Egyptian court, as well as other repressive actions:
Imprisoning working journalists appears to be part of a broader effort by Egypt’s transitional government to repress freedom of expression and peaceful dissent. Along with the arrests of journalists, the government has imprisoned many nonviolent protestors, activists, and intellectuals. These actions call into question the stated intention of the Egyptian government to complete Egypt’s transition to democracy.
Stengel said Egypt's actions called into question "what kind of Egypt does President al-Sisi hope to build," yet said that "President al-Sisi assured Secretary Kerry that he desires to see the country advance." He also suggested that "political sentences and verdicts" and "injustices" of recent months called for quick remedies, including pardons, in order to help Egypt get a "fresh start" with the newly elected al-Sisi.
With many of the Obama administration's foreign policy woes centered in the Middle East, the administration has a lot riding on this "most populous Arab country" that it considers "a bellwether for the Middle East region." Egypt's actions regarding the imprisoned journalists and opponents of the government may give a good indication if the "Arab Spring" trumpeted by the president and his foreign policy team early in the president's tenure still has any life left in it.