At Thursday night’s WWE-style Republican debate, the junior senator from Texas took a moment to praise the leadership skills and “courage” of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
“We need a president that shows the courage that Egypt’s President al-Sisi, a Muslim, when he called out the radical Islamic terrorists who are threatening the world,” Cruz said to an applauding audience.
It’s not the first time he’s praised Sisi—it’s is a common conservative meme to compare President Obama’s alleged weakness to the supposed manliness of strongmen abroad. And Cruz is far from the only Republican lawmaker to join the Sisi fan club. (Fellow 2016 contenders Mike Huckabee and Jeb Bush are pretty much on the same page.) But for all of Cruz’s talk about liberty and democratic freedoms at home, he is giving Our Man In Cairo a hell of a pass abroad.
Sisi—a strongman ruler practically minted in the U.S.A.—came to power in a 2013 coup that ousted the democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi, a leading member in the Muslim Brotherhood. Sisi’s armed forces then began a trigger-happy crackdown on Brotherhood members and supporters, and commenced the typical authoritarian kick of going after the press and imprisoning the opposition. (Morsi himself is waiting to see if his execution is imminent.)
Additionally, in an apparent effort to prove that his regime is even more “Islamic” than the Islamists he deposed, Sisi has presided over a campaign of persecution, prosecution and public shaming of LGBT Egyptians. It’s yet another brutal crackdown that has made Sisi’s Egypt a worse environment for gays than Morsi’s Egypt ever was.
And for all the repression and human-rights violations, his government has not managed to make the Egyptian republic any safer. “Sisi came to power on a platform of security and stability and clearly he’s failing—by any measurable standard, Egypt is more vulnerable to insurgency today than it was two years ago,” Shadi Hamid, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told The Daily Beast last month.
So what’s not to love, Senator Cruz?
The Cruz campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding how the senator squares loving freedom with applauding ruthless dictatorship.