US Secretary of State John Kerry’s surprise arrival in Cairo on 3 November came on the eve of the trial of former President Muhammad Mursi, which opened the next day only to be adjourned until 8 January. The unannounced one-day visit itself could be (and was) seen as something of an endorsement of the military-backed government that ousted Mr Mursi in July, and it seems that after months of sitting on the fence about developments in Egypt, the Obama administration has finally decided that the demands of realpolitik outweigh the attractions of democracy and it can only play the hand it has been dealt.

This may be because there now appears to be little hope that Egypt will revert to the democratic status quo ante; because Mr Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood are unlikely to have American interests at heart; and because America’s regional allies are all firmly behind the new government and infuriated by the Americans’ apparent inability to make up their minds. Whatever the case, while in private Mr Kerry reportedly urged military strongman General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi not to extend the state of emergency due to expire in mid-month and stick to the timetable for a new constitution and early parliamentary and presidential elections, in public he was a good deal more circumspect, telling a joint press conference with his Egyptian counterpart Nabil Fahmy that the American decision in October to suspend arms deliveries was “not a punishment” but “a reflection of policy in the US under our law.” (CONTINUED - 414 WORDS)