Much of Egyptian President Sisi’s claim on Western support rests on his promise that he can maintain his country as an island of stability in an otherwise turbulent Arab world, and on his successful crushing of terrorist groups. If terrorists linked to Islamic State did in fact bring down a Russian airliner (as now seems likely), Sisi’s argument may be headed for trouble, as Oren Kessler writes:
The air disaster has overshadowed what was supposed to be a public-relations coup for Sisi: an official visit to the residence of British Prime Minister David Cameron, where talk of a shared counterterror vision and investment in Egyptian energy was to replace reports of mass arrests, death sentences, curtailed freedom of speech, and the heavy-handed response to the Sinai unrest. Instead, the visit has been dominated by questions of security in Egypt, the costs of doing business in the country, and the wisdom of keeping its air routes open.
Despite his government’s excesses, Sisi’s inner circle insists that his commitment to counterterrorism in a dangerous environment is reason enough to merit international support. It’s not a baseless argument—the world’s most unstable region is engulfed in unprecedented volatility, and Egypt is both the largest Arab state and a decades-long Western ally. Still, the possibility that on his watch Egypt suffered its worst-ever terror attack has called into question the president’s counterterrorism tactics. If Sisi’s uncompromising methods can’t prevent a brazen, mass-casualty attack, Western policymakers will inevitably wonder what purpose they have served.