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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 8    Issue 7   16-31 August 2013

Egyptian Army’s Brutal Assault on Democracy and Civil Rights

A Barbaric Bloodbath

John L. Esposito

John L Esposito is a professor at Georgetown University and Founding Director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

The slaughter of pro-Morsi demonstrators should be seen for what it is, a barbaric bloodbath. General Al Sisi and the Egyptian senior military have now demonstrated to the world the true colours of their coup and Egypt's illegitimate government. Egypt today has become Mubarak redux, the return of a military backed and led authoritarian government with all the brutality of the past. What will Egypt's so-called liberal civilian government leaders say and do? [Former vice president Mohammed] El Baradei has tarnished his Nobel prize. The interim president, Adly Mansour [has tarnished] his current office just as he did as a Constitutional Court judge.

What steps will Western governments take? Will they blandly refer to this tragedy as a "setback for democracy?" Or will the US and EU condemn and cut off any aid or promise of aid to the current government? Egyptians are challenged to now realise that the only way forward is to reinstitute the democratic process. Coups lead exactly to what Egypt has now returned to - an authoritarian state whose promises of inclusion, elections and security ring hollow. For indeed, who of those in the anti-Morsi non-violent opposition would now themselves dare to publicly condemn the military and take to the streets in non-violent demonstrations?

(Source: Al Jazeera, 15 August, 2013)


An Egyptian Rendition of Hell

Richard Falk

Richard Falk is Albert G Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University.

It is unimaginable that the remarkable events of the January 25 Revolution of 2011 have morphed into an Egyptian rendition of Hell on earth after little more than two years. The most appropriate emotion of the moment is sadness and empathy for the people of Egypt caught in this terrible maelstrom of barbaric violence. The military coup of July 3, staged with a supposed "democratic" mandate from an enraged populace in a society teetering on edge of chaos, was stained with blood and vindictive violence from its first hours. It confronted the understandable and predictable resistance of pro-Morsi forces with a brutal show of state terror that seemed designed to instill fear and submission, has gave rise instead to a collective display of resolve-unto-death, tinged with a readiness for martyrdom.

The appointment of 19 generals as the governors of Egypt's provinces, the resignation of Mohamed ElBaradei (the embodiment of liberal secularism), the killing of hundreds more unarmed Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators, as well as the declaration of a state of emergency, makes Western diplomatic call for compromise, inclusion, and mutual restraint irrelevant, and pathetic. The only political act that would have any moral credibility at this moment is an unconditional condemnation of the criminal onslaught that General Al Sisi's has launched against the Egyptian people, made credible by being coupled with a refusal to accept any longer its claims of legitimacy.

(Source: Al Jazeera, 15 August, 2013)


Military Madness in Cairo


UPDATE: President Obama said on Thursday that the United States would pull out of joint military exercises with the Egyptian army scheduled for September.

With yet another blood bath in the streets of Cairo on Wednesday, Egypt’s ruling generals have demonstrated beyond any lingering doubt that they have no aptitude for, and apparently little interest in, guiding their country back to democracy. On the contrary, the political obtuseness of Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt’s de facto leader, and the brutal repression he has unleashed now threaten to produce the worst of all possible outcomes to an already inflamed situation: a murderous civil war.

That would be a tragedy for Egypt, which until recently believed it was on a path to ending decades of repression and dictatorship. And it would be a foreign policy disaster for the United States. Egypt is the most populous and influential country in the Arab world. It is also Israel’s most strategically important neighbor.

President Obama must make clear his unequivocal opposition to the Egyptian military’s conduct. He can do so by immediately suspending military aid and canceling joint military exercises scheduled for September. These steps can be reversed if the generals change their ways, but, until then, the United States should slam the door on an aid program that has provided the Egyptian military with a munificent $1.3 billion a year for decades.

Those who argue that this aid gives the United States leverage can no longer do so with a straight face. Time and again, repeated phone calls from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to General Sisi asking for restraint and similar exhortations by Secretary of State John Kerry have been ignored.

Mr. Kerry spoke out again on Wednesday, but it is now up to Mr. Obama to act. A cautious statement from a deputy press secretary in Martha’s Vineyard that the Obama administration “strongly condemns” the violence and is reviewing the aid program is unlikely to get the generals’ attention. Canceling next month’s joint exercises, which is now being considered, might. And if suspending a $1.3 billion subsidy does not do the trick, it will at least tell rank-and-file Egyptians that the United States is no longer underwriting repression.

Hundreds of peaceful demonstrators were killed Wednesday when military and police units used helicopters, snipers, bulldozers and tear gas to evict them from two camp areas in Cairo. The military proclaimed a monthlong nationwide state of emergency, while the “transitional government” named 25 new provincial governors — 19 of them generals.

The transitional government is little more than window dressing for military rule. Those liberals and moderates who have enabled and emboldened the military have been complicit in this deception. One prominent liberal democrat, Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Prize winner, resigned Wednesday as interim vice president.

The Muslim Brotherhood must also share responsibility. Since the July 3 coup that ousted President Mohamed Morsi, it has shown too little interest in negotiating a peaceful path out of the crisis. And even before that coup, Mr. Morsi and other Brotherhood leaders had displayed little interest in reaching out to Egyptians of different political and religious persuasions.

But the major blame rests with General Sisi. He seized power from a democratically elected government. He controls the security forces that have persecuted and brutalized political opponents. And he approved orders for heavily armed forces to use deadly force against peaceful protesters with a very legitimate political grievance — the ouster and secret detention of Egypt’s first democratically elected president.

Washington’s influence on Egyptian public opinion generally is limited. That has less to do with the low-key tone Mr. Obama has taken than with the preceding decades of uncritical United States support for past dictators like Mr. Mubarak and the military forces supporting them, to the neglect of most of Egypt’s 84 million people. It is past time for Mr. Obama to start correcting that imbalance. Suspending assistance to Egypt’s anti-democratic military would be a good place to start.

(Source: The New York Times, 14 August, 2013)


Egypt's bloodbath

The battle for Egypt

The generals’ killing spree is a reckless denial of the lessons from the Arab spring

BARELY a month and a half into a government dominated by a general who had displaced a Muslim Brother in a coup that was cheered on by most of the people, Egypt is once again plunged into violence. On August 14th armed police, backed by helicopters in the skies and bulldozers on the streets, stormed thousands of the Brothers’ supporters encamped beside a mosque and a university in Cairo. Hundreds were killed and nearly 3,000 injured and the violence spread to other cities, including Alexandria and Suez. A score of churches were burned by angry Islamists. The government declared a curfew in some provinces and a month-long state of emergency across the country. The last time that happened, when Hosni Mubarak took over as president after the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981, the state of emergency remained in force for 30 years.

The government has pleaded that it used “the utmost degree of self-restraint” this week. In fact, its choice to unleash deadly force against its own people was brutal and reckless. Far from marking the closing chapter in a popular coup, the killing threatens a period of strife that could drag the country towards civil war. At worst, the spectre of Algeria looms: the army there prevented Islamists from taking office after they won the first round of an election in 1991, and as many as 200,000 died in the decade-long bloodbath that ensued.

Thankfully Egypt still has a long way to go before that fate befalls it. But its 85m people are as deeply divided today as at any time since Egypt became a republic in 1953. The question is whether suppression really is now the way to deal with the Muslim Brothers, or whether it simply adds to the mayhem.

Death on the Nile

One view holds that the Muslim Brothers never intended to share power or to relinquish it in an election. There is no doubt that Muhammad Morsi’s performance as president was a disaster. He won about a quarter of the eligible vote and proceeded to flout every sort of democratic norm. His government packed a constitutional committee with Islamists, rushing through electoral and other laws without due consent. It let sectarian hatred against Muslim minorities and Egypt’s 8m-odd Christians rise unchecked. Combined with sheer incompetence in its stewardship of the economy, this destroyed the standing of Mr Morsi among ordinary Egyptians. More than 20m people—half the adult population—were said to have signed a petition for a referendum on his presidency.

Since his forced removal on July 3rd and subsequent incarceration, he and his fellow Brothers at large have refused any hint of compromise, and have demanded his reinstatement. How much more exhilarating was opposition than the tricky realities of governing. Victimhood, martyrdom even, has seemed a more potent political weapon than policymaking.

But that does not excuse the generals—for either the coup or this bloodshed. The coup was not only wrong, it was also a tactical mistake. The Brothers would probably have lost any election handily; and if they had refused to hold a vote, then the people would have risen up. The army’s violence since then has been disastrous. When it shot scores of people on July 8th, it drew a baleful lesson from the tepid Western response: that it could get away with it. In fact violence has served to unite Egypt’s various Islamist factions—some of which had previously rejected the Brothers almost as keenly as secular Egyptians did. The Brothers’ incompetence and abuse of power is now disappearing under a mantle of injustice and suffering.

The generals’ worst mistake, however, is to ignore the chief lesson of the Arab spring. This is that ordinary people yearn for dignity. They hate being bossed around by petty officials and ruled by corrupt autocrats. They reject the apparatus of a police state. Instead they want better lives, decent jobs and some basic freedoms. Egypt’s Islamists, in their reduced state, probably still make up 30% or so of the population. The generals cannot suppress them without also depriving millions of other Egyptians of the freedoms that they crave—and which they have tasted, however briefly, since the overthrow of Mr Mubarak. Henceforth jihadists, in Egypt and beyond, who sympathise with al-Qaeda will find a more willing audience when they preach, as well as a supply of newly radicalised recruits. Likewise, each Islamist challenge will strengthen those in the army arguing for further suppression.

Go back to your barracks

If the generals want a stable Egypt, in which they command the loyalty of ordinary Egyptians, they should therefore draw back from the brink. Given their treatment at the hands of the army, it is hard to imagine the Brothers agreeing now to take part in a new political circus. But General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the power behind the throne, and his interim president, Adly Mansour, can create the conditions for a functioning economy and an inclusive politics. To do so they must set a timetable for parliamentary and presidential elections. The committee they have entrusted with amending the constitution should be widened to include more Islamists. And other Islamist parties, if the Brothers refuse to participate, should be wooed into playing their part in politics—eventually, if not now.

The world must also act. This newspaper warned Western leaders that their lack of response to the July shootings would cause trouble; it has. It should not repeat the same mistake today. America should cancel joint military exercises due in September and withhold its next tranche of military aid (already disbursed for the current year) until a civilian government has been elected and takes office. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries should not write the generals a blank cheque just because they share a dislike of the Brothers.

No one could ever have thought that reinventing Egypt was going to be easy. It has never had a proper democracy. Much of its populace is illiterate. Most of its people live in poverty. And the question of how to accommodate Islam has everywhere proved vexed. But the generals should stop and think: in modern history such immense obstacles have never been overcome by violence.

(Source: The Economist, August 17, 2013)


US credibility 'in tatters' over Egypt crisis

Kim Ghattas

On the streets of Cairo it's not just a fledgling democracy that lies in ruin. US policy too lies in tatters - in the eyes of many - or at least America's reputation and credibility.

Since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, the US has struggled to strike a balance between support for the tenuous progress towards democracy and protection of its national security interests. The White House has tried hard to work with whoever is in power in Egypt but has ended up with no friends and little influence in Cairo. Washington's recent diplomatic efforts in Egypt have failed one after the other. Up until his removal from power, the US tried to counsel Mr Morsi to accept a compromise with the army and the protesters. The US also appealed to the military not to remove Mr Morsi. After the coup, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns travelled to Cairo twice to help mediate between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood. But even getting an audience in Cairo these days is a hard task for US officials. The US refrained from calling Mr Morsi's removal a coup for fear of upsetting the country's generals and the millions who demanded Mr Morsi's departure.

This has infuriated the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters who feel robbed of a democratic election. But far from ingratiating the US with the new interim rulers and the generals, Washington finds itself criticised by the anti-Morsi camp for what they perceive to have been the US's unconditional support for Mr Morsi while he was in power. When President Barack Obama interrupted his holiday in Martha's Vineyard, he "strongly'' condemned the violence and said the US opposed the imposition of martial law in Egypt. He sounded sombre and stern, though he spoke in an incongruous summer resort setting, he mostly seemed frustrated.

"America cannot determine the future of Egypt. That's a task for the Egyptian people. We don't take sides with any particular party or political figure," said Mr Obama. Some argue that the mere fact the US is still providing military aid to Egypt means the US has taken sides with the army. But Egypt's commanding general, General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, has been openly scathing of the US. "You left the Egyptians. You turned your back on the Egyptians, and they won't forget that," said Gen Sisi in a recent Washington Post interview. "Now you want to continue turning your backs on Egyptians?"

President Obama said it was tempting to blame the United States or the West for what was going wrong in Egypt. "We've been blamed by supporters of Morsi. We've been blamed by the other side, as if we are supporters of Morsi. That kind of approach will do nothing to help Egyptians achieve the future that they deserve. We want Egypt to succeed. We want a peaceful, democratic, prosperous Egypt. That's our interest. But to achieve that, the Egyptians are going to have to do the work." Mr Obama did cancel a planned joint military exercise with Egypt and said American aid would be reviewed. The US cancelled the biennial Bright Star military exercise in 2011 as well because of the post revolution upheaval and to press the country's interim military rulers to stick to the agreed democratic transition plan.

But today, Egypt's generals are not listening any more, not since US Secretary of State John Kerry seemed to endorse their latest move. "The military was asked to intervene by millions and millions of people, all of whom were afraid of a descent into chaos, into violence," Mr Kerry told Pakistan's Geo TV two weeks ago. "And the military did not take over, to the best of our judgment - so far. To run the country there's a civilian government. In effect, they were restoring democracy," he added. US policy so far had been convoluted - it wasn't calling it a coup and it wasn't not calling it coup. American officials were furiously backtracking for days after Mr Kerry's comment, but the statement could no longer be undone. But Mr Kerry's comments were also a reflection of years of close co-operation between Washington and Cairo. Despite all the upheaval, Egypt and its army remains a key security partner. The generals' support is crucial to maintaining the country's peace treaty with Israel, the Camp David accords signed in 1979. Washington also supports Egypt in its fight against militants in the Sinai, bordering Israel. Washington is also worried about access to the Suez Canal.

A recent report released by the Congressional Research Service highlighted concerns within the administration and congress about how to maintain security co-operation with Egypt at a time of continued upheaval. The report was issued before Mr Morsi's ouster but the concerns remain the same now that he's gone. Egypt gives the US Navy expedited passage through the Suez Canal while other countries have to wait for weeks. About a dozen US warships pass each month through the Canal, a key shortcut to reaching Iraq and Afghanistan. "Without passage through the canal the Navy would have to deploy ships around the Cape of Good Hope - adding significant time to deployment from Norfolk, Va. to the Persian Gulf or Indian Ocean," the report said.

The US is also still dealing with the consequences of cutting military aid to another country for several years. In 1990, the US suspended aid to Pakistan because of nuclear proliferation related sanctions. In the decade that followed, Washington and the Pentagon's connection with the Pakistani military frayed - Pakistani officials stopped coming to the US for training, for example. To this day, although aid has resumed, the relationship has yet to recover, with a direct impact on counter terrorism co-operation. But critics of the administration's position on Egypt are growing by the day. Republican Senator John McCain has repeatedly called on the White House to declare the removal of Mr Morsi a coup and cut aid. Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Washington shared responsibility for the bloodshed. The common message is that maintaining ties with the military has become too costly for the US. "I think it's time for the United States to recognise that what we have here is the restoration of a military dictatorship in Cairo," said Tamara Wittes from the Brookings Institution, and a former State Department official working on Middle East democracy issues during the first Obama administration.

"That means that the United States needs to call these events what they are - under American law it needs to suspend assistance to the Egyptian government because this was a military coup and it is a military regime." Ms Wittes also said the Egyptian army would maintain security co-operation with the US, even if aid was cut, because it was in its own interest. For now that's a risk the Obama administration is not willing to take.

(Source: BBC News, 16 August, 2013)

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