Meltdown in Egypt

Egyptian security forces clear a sit-in camp set up by Mosrsi supporters in Cairo on Wednesday

The anti-army, pro-Morsi protests in Egypt have been growing larger and more violent by the day, and with them so has the army’s response to these protests.

The army’s response as well as violence from the protestors has resulted in several hundred deaths in the last couple of days:

Egyptian security forces, backed by armored cars and bulldozers, moved on Wednesday to clear two sit-in camps by supporters of the country’s ousted President Mohammed Morsi, showering protesters with tear gas as the sound of gunfire rang out at both sites, state television and security officials said.

According to the Muslim Brotherhood, security forces killed at least 30 people. As of print time, various media reports had placed the casualty numbers from dozens to at least 250 people killed.

[...]

The smaller of the two camps was cleared of protesters by late morning, with most of them taking refuge in the nearby Orman botanical gardens and inside the sprawling campus of Cairo University.

However, security forces remained on the fringes of the other camp in the eastern Nasr City district after it showered the encampment with tear gas. Television footage from there showed thousands of protesters congregating at the heart of the site, with many wearing gas masks or covering their faces to fend off the tear gas.

A security official said a total of 200 protesters have been arrested from both sites. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Legal Insurrection has a live-tweet of the violence in Egypt, including attacks on Christians and churches because… you know …  if Muslims are angry at other Muslims they’ll attack the Jews or the Christians.

Egypt’s political instability was further shaken by the resignation of Vice President Mohammed el-Baradei:

Egypt’s acting vice president Mohamed ElBaradei resigned hours after Egyptian security forces crushed a protest camp of thousands of supporters of the deposed president on Wednesday, shooting dead scores of people in the bloodiest day in decades in the Arab world’s most populous country.

The health ministry said 149 people were killed, both in Cairo and in clashes that broke out elsewhere in the country. Deposed President Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood said the death toll was far higher in what it described as a “massacre.”

[...]

In one a rare sign of unease from among the Brotherhood’s opponents, ElBaradei, a former UN diplomat, quit his post of vice president in the army-backed government, saying the conflict could have been resolved by peaceful means.

“The beneficiaries of what happened today are those call for violence, terrorism and the most extreme groups,” he said.

But his own political movement, the anti-Islamist National Salvation Front, showed no such qualms, declaring “Egypt has held its head high in the sky announcing victory over political groups that abuse religion.”

Since Morsi was toppled, the security forces had twice before killed scores of protesters in attempts to drive Morsi’s followers off the streets. But they had held back from a full-scale assault on the tented camp where followers and their families have lived behind makeshift barricades.

After the assault on the camp began, desperate residents recited Koranic verse and screamed “God help us! God help us!” while helicopters hovered overhead and armored bulldozers ploughed over their makeshift defenses.

Reuters journalists on the scene saw masked police in dark uniforms pour out of police vans with sticks and tear gas bombs. They tore down tents and set them ablaze.

The EU and US urged the army not to to be so harsh on the protestors, but it appears their pleas were ignored. From the above JPost link:

The violence was the worst Egypt has suffered since war with Israel in 1973, and reveals security forces prepared to take the sort of action against street protesters that they demurred from when the public rose up against autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

It forces tough decisions for Egypt’s Western allies, especially Washington, which funds Egypt’s military with $1.3 billion a year and has so far refused to label the army’s overthrow of Morsi a “coup.”

“The United States strongly condemns the use of violence against protesters in Egypt,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. “We extend our condolences to the families of those who have been killed, and to the injured. We have repeatedly called on the Egyptian military and security forces to show restraint.”

“We also strongly oppose a return to a State of Emergency law, and call on the government to respect basic human rights such as freedom of peaceful assembly, and due process under the law. The world is watching what is happening in Cairo.”

… The United States and Europe had pressed hard for Egypt’s generals not to crush the demonstrators. A diplomatic effort to open talks between the Brotherhood and the authorities, backed by Washington, Brussels and Arab states, collapsed last week.

Outside of Cairo, state media said Mursi supporters besieged and set fire to government buildings and attacked several churches. Those reports could not be independently confirmed. Christians, who make up 10 percent of the population of 85 million, have feared reprisals from Islamists.

Among the dead in Cairo were at least two journalists. A Reuters photographer was shot in the foot.
At a makeshift morgue at the camp field hospital, a Reuters reporter counted 29 bodies, with others still arriving. Most had died of gunshot wounds to the head.

[...]

Turkey urged the UN Security Council and Arab League to act quickly to stop a “massacre” in Egypt. Iran warned of the risk of civil war. The European Union and several of its member countries deplored the killings.

Ynet pointedly remarks:

In a stern warning to Egypt’s leaders, Secretary of State John Kerry said the escalating violence throughout the country Wednesday had dealt a “serious blow” to political reconciliation efforts between the interim government and pro-Morsi groups.

Still, Obama administration officials signaled no change in US policy toward Egypt or clear consequences for the mounting violence. The US has avoided declaring Morsi’s ouster a coup, a move that would force the administration to suspend $1.3 billion in annual military aid to the strategically important nation, and officials said they continued to believe that step is not the America’s interests.

An Egyptian military vehicle is pushed over a bridge, Wednesday (AP)

After the deadly violence, the Muslim Brotherhood declared that it will bring down the military coup that overthrew Morsi:

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood said on Thursday it would bring down the “military coup” but stressed it remained committed to a peaceful struggle, despite the heavy loss of life when government forces broke up its protest camps.

The crackdown on Wednesday defied Western appeals for restraint and a peaceful, negotiated settlement to Egypt’s political crisis following the military’s removal of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi last month, prompting international statements of dismay and condemnation.

“We will always be non-violent and peaceful. We remain strong, defiant and resolved,” Brotherhood spokesman Gehad El-Haddad wrote on his Twitter feed. “We will push (forward) until we bring down this military coup,” he added.

[...]

The Muslim Brotherhood said the true death toll was far higher, with a spokesman saying 2,000 people had been killed in a “massacre”. It was impossible to verify the figures independently given the extent of the violence.

The military-installed government declared a month-long state of emergency and imposed the dusk-to-dawn curfew on Cairo and 10 other provinces, restoring to the army powers of arrest and indefinite detention it held for decades until the fall of autocrat Hosni Mubarak in a 2011 popular uprising.

The army insists it does not seek power and acted Last month in response to mass demonstrations calling for Morsi’s removal.

A torn poster of deposed Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi at Rabaa Adawiya square, Wednesday (AP)

The army has now declared a month-long state of emergency, imposing martial law:

Egypt plunged deeper into chaos Wednesday evening as Interim President Adly Mansour declared a month-long state of emergency and enacted martial law following bloody clashes between the military and supporters of deposed Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, which have left hundreds dead and thousands wounded.

[...]

Mansour’s decision to enact martial law — which includes a dusk-to-dawn curfew on Cairo and 10 other provinces, and restoring the army’s powers of arrest and indefinite detention, which it held during Hosni Mubarak’s regime — followed the resignation of Interim Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei.

[...]

The United States condemned the violence sweeping across Egypt. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said President Barack Obama was briefed on the deteriorating situation in Egypt: “The violence will only make it more difficult to move Egypt forward on a path to lasting stability and democracy and runs directly counter to the pledges by the interim government to pursue reconciliation.

“Figuring out how to encourage the interim government to make good on their promise to transition to a democratically elected government there is something that we’re working on,” Earnest said. “Hopefully it’s something they’re working on.”

A State Department official further hedged that the bloodshed may force Washington to call off a major military exercise with Egypt, planned for later this year. The U.S., which gives Egypt $1.3 billion in military aid and about $250 million in economic aid each year, has been reluctant to cut the funding for fear of antagonizing the military and losing what influence it has in the Arab world’s most populous nation.

Calling off the joint drill, would be the strongest signal that the U.S. government has sent Cairo since its July 24 decision to halt delivery of four F-16 fighter jets.

Which brings us to a sharply hard-hitting analysis by Yossi Shain in Ynet, who places the blame for the regional violence in the Middle East squarely at the feet of US President Obama, saying he has lost touch with the Middle East:

The American failure in the Middle East is continuous and dangerous. The Obama administration is repeatedly displaying a lack of understanding, shortsightedness and general lack of leadership with regards to the dramatic changes in the region. Obama condemned the Bush administration for its mistaken perception of America’s ability to shape the Middle East and fight terror, but today it appears that his government is making the same mistakes and is even adding some of its own.In his first term, Obama focused on the withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan and in introducing a new atmosphere in the Middle East, in the spirit of his speech in Cairo. In this regard, the US also found itself in a trust crisis with Jerusalem and the freezing of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. [...]

The US government has lost all touch with the harsh reality in Syria. It seems that Washington has no influence on the chaotic events in the Arab country. The government made the mistake of not affirming its steadfast opposition to Assad and his alliance with Nasrallah; to Russia; and to the invasion of jihadi forces. It also failed to set clear red lines for the spread of violence. Washington failed to clearly identify an alternative opposition, and now it cannot provide any solution to the unremitting chaos in Syria. Its rhetoric regarding civil rights, crimes against humanity and the use of chemical weapons has also been hollow.

n Egypt, an important and expensive ally of the US, the failure is even more resounding. Egypt is at the edge of an abyss, and numerous officials in Cairo are pointing to the lack of US leadership as the reason for the collapse. Obama, who during his Cairo speech promised a new and democratic era, initially lost his ally Mubarak in an amateurish fashion. Later he also lost the democratic forces on the street and even the Muslims who rose to power in democratic elections made possible by the first Tahrir revolution.

[...]

The Obama administration, which has excelled in leading from behind (in Libya, for example) is not leading at all. There is a reason why it is focusing on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process as a possible bright side that may boost its status in the region. This situation is sensitive, dangerous and even explosive. The US administration’s urgent need to bring about an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians makes Washington less patient and less sensitive to nuances. This may create unnecessary pressure which may also project on Washington’s ability and motivation to act vis-à-vis the Iranian issue.

The need to maneuver when all the clocks are ticking at the same time may have a negative effect on Washington’s ability to get its priorities straight. The Obama administration adopts a certain concept and then continues to support it despite the changing reality.

Obama is perceived as being unreliable and indecisive. The current situation in the Middle East calls for deep and clear thinking, and mainly cautious statements. Washington is not identifying any clear ideological patterns or pragmatic courses of action in the region. These are huge challenges for a superpower that is seeing its status in the Middle East decreasing. When the empire is embarrassed, the shards of the failures fly in all directions.

Ouch. Those are very strong words, and they are echoed by the great Middle East expert Barry Rubin who says that America’s real danger is to be on the wrong side in the world:

As for “good intentions” may I remind you that Obama did not have good intentions at all. Just like any British or American imperialist in a previous century, Obama has sought to overthrow regimes and replace it with a Muslim Brotherhood and thus inevitably Sharia regime.

How’s that for “good intentions?”

And if Obama wanted to rebuild trust–as opposed to protecting the Br0therhood’s interests–he would rebuild trust with the Egyptian army and people by supporting the  new government rather than seek to empower an anti-Christian, anti-Western, antisemitic, anti-American, homophobic, genocidal, anti-woman totalitarian-destined regime.

Rubin’s article also analyses the Administrations wrong moves regarding Israel and the Palestinians but that is a story for another day.

Meanwhile under the Obama Administration I don’t see much cause for hope in the Middle East.

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17 Responses to Meltdown in Egypt

  1. Debby says:

    Sadly, if it can’t be spun to a “black vs. white” race issue, I’m afraid our president doesn’t know how to respond very well. Besides, he’s very busy over here making trouble for Americans (spying on us, investigating us, hiding things from us, accusing us, etc).

    • anneinpt says:

      It’s partly that Debby, and partly he simply doesn’t have a clue. He has no idea how to cope with a crisis of this magnitude – and he’s had enough crises in the Middle East since his tenure began that he should have developed some kind of plan by now.

      His advisors are hardly better. In fact they’re making things worse with their warped one-sided view of the Middle East – which boils down to “let’s make peace between Israel and the Palestinians and everything else will fall into place”. This is putting the situation exactly backwards of course, but you can’t expect the Golfer-in-Chief to realise that.

  2. Rob Harris says:

    I can’t find a reference to it now but yesterday it seemed that the Muslim Brotherhood threatened bloodshed if the protest was moved, and today reports said there was shooting from both sides. Thus I’m a little sceptical at this early stage at least about the Brotherhood’s claims of “massacre” and the reiteration of their peaceful intentions to bring the “coup” down.

    • anneinpt says:

      I quite agree that there’s a lot of Pallywood about the massacre numbers, though they’re still jolly high – in the 200-300 mark. I read reports (I’ve read so many I can’t remember where) that the MB themselves started shooting so the army fired back.

      Neither side are exactly saints though. For Israel the army is the best alternative. At least we know them and they know us and there is a certain level of trust, e.g. the alleged cooperation between us in eliminating the Jihadists in Sinai. The MB are definitely bad for Israel and I’m pretty sure they’re terrible for Egypt too.

      What a mess though. I wonder how much worse it’ll get before it starts to stabilize.

      • ligneus says:

        Could be civil war though unlike Syria the army is powerful and organised enough that there can only be one outcome and the MB probably know that. They’ll retreat licking their wounds but continue to make life difficult for the country. Maybe the army now that they’ve started will continue the fight to decimate [in the literal sense] them. The MB are the same as the Pallis, the Iranians, the Nazis, there’s no point in trying to negotiate, they’ll just take you for a ride. To paraphrase Jesus, you have to do unto them as they would do unto you if they could.

        • anneinpt says:

          I agree with your assessment of the army’s strength. Eventually a strongman like Mubarak will emerge, and the West will hold its nose but in the end will cooperate, because the alternative is much worse.

          So in the end Mubarak may as well have been left in place for all the good this violence has done, and all the thousands of lives lost.

      • cba says:

        For Israel the army is the best alternative

        I would change “best” to “least-bad” (both in this comment and yur comment regarding Netanyahu) but otherwise agree.

    • ligneus says:

      See also David Warren.

      http://www.davidwarrenonline.com/2013/08/15/chronicles-of-peace-peace/

      “Peace comes, & comes only, in this world, with the strength of enforcement. It does not come from prattling with the psychos; it comes from rendering them powerless. The Egyptian military understands this from intimate dealing with the Muslim Brotherhood; & now the fickle Egyptian public, from first-hand experience of Brotherhood rule. You do not go half way with these people: you destroy them, or they destroy you. Turn your cheek & they slit your throat.

      It would be more merciful, all round, if we stopped trying to appease our mortal enemies, to see if it might somehow work this time. Whether dealing with the Muslim Brotherhood, or Hamas — as with Communists or Nazis in another generation — nothing is achieved by pulling punches, or offering to “jaw.” What works, what has always worked, is unambiguous: “If you do this, we will do that.” And then deliver on the nail, as promised. The choice is not between war & peace; it is between little war now & big war later.

      The Egyptian military did what it had to do. They told the Brotherhood to remove their camps from the middle of Cairo, or have them removed. The regime acted exactly as it threatened to act, when the Brotherhood did not move. It should continue to act, with resolution. There is no mealymouthed advice the world can give, to which the officers should listen; none to which the Israelis should listen. They, not we, take the consequences of irresolution.”

      • anneinpt says:

        Thanks for both those very interesting links Ligneus. A friend and commenter, “Aridog”, recommended Diplomad to me last week and I’ve now bookmarked him. David Warren’s words are equally incisive.

        It feels so despairing sometimes though, when writers such as those, or even we ourselves, can see matters so clearly and yet the politicians refuse to see the reality in front of their eyes.

        What do all these words help in the end if we have no power to put them into practice?

        • ligneus says:

          A big part of the problem is, how many people read David Warren and Diplomad? Not enough of course.

          • anneinpt says:

            But why are there no Diplomads and David Warrens advising the politicians and government authorities? And if there are, why are they not being heeded? It’s all so frustrating.

  3. Reality says:

    If this is the long awaited Arab spring I can’t wait for winter! I wouldn’t hold out on any hope that Obama will do something constructive aout Mid East.He thinks that if everyone would just sit down & talk we’d have a few nice democratic Arab States! & if Israel would just give into every Palestinian demand he could end his term respectfully.

    • anneinpt says:

      Yep. You’re quite right about Obama, and that goes for all the other politicians too. They’re only out to cement their “legacy”, and consequences be damned. Israeli politicians are no better.

      • ligneus says:

        “Israeli politicians are no better.”

        I like to think they’re better, but you’re on the spot and know better than I with my special rose tinted specs on. It’s a big problem being an optimist but I am what I am and it’s better for me at least than being a misery guts.

        • anneinpt says:

          Perhaps I’m being too harsh on Israeli politicians, because when the crunch really comes, and in Israel it does every few years, the pols abandon ideology and selfish interests for the greater benefit of the country – with a few notable exceptions.

          Netanyahu is an interesting case in that I think he’s motivated by ideology and wanting the greater good of the country, yet he doesn’t seem able to withstand international public pressure. Also when the pressure is off he seems to bend in the wind according to domestic public opinion.

          But he’s the best of all the other options so I perhaps I shouldn’t be so hard on him.

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