Sisi: Egypt backs US strikes on ISIS, will participate in coalition, if ...

But don’t expect that assistance to come free of charge. In an interview this morning with CBS’ Charlie Rose, the Egyptian president whose coup took down the Muslim Brotherhood government favored by the White House says that his country would be happy to join the anti-ISIS coalition, including militarily, and expects to do so. Just as soon as the US coughs up the fighter jets that the Obama administration held up after the coup, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi says with repeated laughter, Egypt will be delighted to help fight terrorism:


Alternate headline: Why are these men laughing? Rose seems to be responding to Sisi’s amusement, which springs from the vast difference in the Obama administration’s perspective since July 2013. When Sisi seized control of Egypt after the Muslim Brotherhood’s attempt at creating an Islamist state, the White House slapped sanctions on Egypt’s military, including the suspension of transfers of those weapons Sisi cites here. Now the Obama administration has to find partners to fight the radical Islamists, which are at least indirectly related to the same movement Sisi overthrew in Egypt. And Sisi knows leverage when he sees it.

That’s not to say that the calculation is entirely mercenary. Sisi gave an interview to Morning Star while in New York for the UN conference, and says that Obama’s fight against terrorism has to go wider than just ISIS:

The former Egyptian military commander, in his first interview in the U.S. since formally taking power in June, also cautioned the administration against “washing its hands” of the Middle East at a time when the region’s borders are in flux and the threat of militancy is growing with the instability.

Mr. Sisi cited terrorist threats in Libya, Sudan, Yemen and the Sinai Peninsula as mirroring the danger posed to the Middle East and the West by Islamic State, which is also known as ISIS or ISIL.

He also said he is pursuing economic development, education and the promotion of religious tolerance as tools that were just as important for neutralizing Islamic State and other radical groups as military strikes.

“We can’t reduce the danger lurking in the region to ISIL. We have to bear in mind all the pieces of the puzzle,” Mr. Sisi said in a nearly hourlong interview at a Manhattan hotel. “We can’t just limit the confrontation to checking and destroying the Islamic State.”


Sisi also notes that the quid pro quo has begun:

The Obama administration, despite stating concerns about Cairo rolling back democratic reforms and the freedom of the press, has also increasingly sought to woo Mr. Sisi as a key ally in the fight against Islamic State.

To support this effort, the U.S. is preparing to deliver 10 Apache helicopters to Egypt that were placed on hold after Mr. Sisi and his military overthrew President Mohammed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood politician, in July 2013.

In return, Sisi proposes that the Egyptian military train Iraqi forces in counter-terrorism. If Obama wants more than that, he may have to give up those fighter jets and ensure the restoral of the funding for the Egyptian army, too. There is no such thing as a free ride in this part of the world. But at least Obama doesn’t have an Islamist regime in Cairo that’s giving ISIS political cover, and for that he can thank Sisi … even if those thanks come through clenched teeth.

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