Egyptian crackdown death toll climbs
By Jim Lobe and Thalif Deen
The administration of US President Barack Obama denounced in unusually harsh terms Wednesday's bloody military crackdown against supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. But, despite a growing chorus of calls to suspend all US aid to the interim government in Cairo that was installed early last month in a military coup d'etat against president Mohammed Morsi, the administration suggested only that it will review "the implications for our broader relationship which includes aid".
"The United States strongly condemns the use of violence against protestors in Egypt," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, where Obama and his family are currently vacationing. "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," he noted.
Earnest added that Washington was also "strongly oppose[d]" to a return to a State of Emergency law that the military announced as the crackdown got underway earlier on Wednesday morning.
The statement was issued amid horrific reports of the violence that began with a full-scale military and police effort to clear tens of thousands of pro-Morsi protestors from camps at two major Cairo squares that sprang up in the immediate aftermath of the July 3 coup. Violent clashes between pro-military activists and Brotherhood demonstrators were also reported in Cairo and other cities.
At least 327 people were killed in Cairo and elsewhere around the country and 2,930 others injured, the health ministry announced early Thursday. That toll looked certain to rise as unrest spread. Brotherhood officials called the killings a "massacre", and said the death toll was many times that number after what was the worst day of violence in Egypt in living memory.
"Today's events are deplorable, and they run counter to Egyptian aspirations for peace, inclusion, and democracy,'' said US Secretary of State John Kerry, who, in a widely criticized statement, had praised the Egyptian military for "restoring democracy" by ousting Morsi earlier this month during a press conference in Pakistan. "Egyptians inside and outside of the government need to take a step. They need to calm the situation and avoid further loss of life," he added.
"The only sustainable path for either side is one toward a political solution. I am convinced from my conversations today with a number of foreign ministers, including the foreign minister of Egypt ... that that path is, in fact, still open ... though it has been made much, much harder, much more complicated, by the events of today."
The crackdown was precisely the kind that US officials - both from the Pentagon and the State Department - had been trying to persuade their Egyptian counterparts to forgo over the past several weeks in hopes that the Brotherhood and its supporters would give up their demand that Morsi be re-instated and that some kind of reconciliation process could get underway.
The administration even appeared to approve a special trip to Cairo last week by two of its fiercest Congressional critics - Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham - for the purpose of conveying to the military, in particular, that any violent crackdown would result in a cut-off of the roughly US$1.6 billion, including $1.3 billion in sophisticated weaponry, Washington provides Egypt in aid every year.
"As we predicted and feared, chaos in Cairo," tweeted McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential candidate, early Wednesday. "Sec Kerry praising the military takeover didn't help," he added in a jab at Kerry's statement in Pakistan.
The Obama administration clearly fears that Wednesday's violence will greatly diminish, if not eliminate, the possibility of any reconciliation between the Brotherhood and other Islamist parties, such as the more fundamentalist Al-Nour party (which until now has taken a more neutral role in the ongoing crisis), and the secular forces which backed the coup.
Indeed, the risk of even greater polarization and escalating civil conflict in the Arab world's most populous and influential country, whose stability has long been considered critical to US strategic interests in the region, has risen sharply as a result of Wednesday's bloodshed, according to independent analysts.
"The events in Egypt will provide a substantial boost to extremism, and specifically violent Islamist extremism," Paul Pillar, a retired top CIA Middle East analyst who now teaches at Georgetown University, told IPS in an email.
"It was bad enough that moderate Islamists are being so clearly and completely excluded from a peaceful, democratic political process. Now the inevitable anger in response to large-scale bloodshed is being added to the mix."
That observation was echoed by the interim government's own vice president and a Washington favorite, Mohammed El-Baradei, who resigned in the face of Wednesday's violence.
"Violence begets violence, and mark my words, the only beneficiaries from what happened today are extremist groups," the Nobel Laureate and a former director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency said in his resignation letter.
Despite increasing signs over the past month that the military was extending its control over the government - the latest coming Tuesday when the government appointed generals to 19 of the country's 25 provincial governorships - the US has refused to label the ouster as a "coup d'etat". If the Obama administration had done so, under current US legislation it would have been forced to cut off all US aid to Egypt, amounting to over $1.5 billion annually.
What precisely Washington will do now remains to be seen. Cutting off aid, according to officials, risked reducing, if not eliminating, whatever influence Washington retained with the military.
But that position appears increasingly untenable in the wake of Wednesday's violence. Indeed, the Washington Post editorialized Wednesday Obama's decision not to cut aid made his administration "complicit in the new and horrifyingly bloody crackdown... "
Marc Lynch, an influential Middle East analyst who has generally supported the administration's "quiet diplomacy" with the generals, wrote on his foreignpolicy.com blog on Wednesday: "The bloody assault on the protester camps - after repeated American opposition to such a move - leaves President Obama little choice but to step away from the Egyptian regime."
"Washington should, and probably will, call for a return to an elected civilian government, a rapid end to the state of emergency, and restraint in the use of force. When that doesn't happen, it needs to suspend aid and relations until Cairo begins to take it seriously," he wrote.
Dr Toby C Jones, associate professor in the Department of History at Rutgers University, described the US position on Egypt as "hypocritical".
"The US primarily approaches its relationship with Egypt through the framework of security and strategic interests - thus the military, not human rights or democracy," he told IPS.
He said the Obama administration has exactly who it wants in power in Cairo.
"Of course, American officials would prefer that they behave better and avoid the kind of violence that is taking place now, but not enough to denounce it strongly or consider political alternatives," said Jones, who has a doctorate in Middle East history from Stanford University.
"Disaster has befallen Egypt," Chris Toensing, editor of the Washington-based Middle East Report, told IPS. "It is the nastiest trick in the autocrat's book. Cry 'after us, the deluge', then disappear from public view and watch the deluge occur, so as to ride back on a white horse," said Toensing. "As for the shameful US position, it simply proves that the real US ally in Egypt is the army, as has been the case since Camp David, if not before."
He said the meek calls for restraint from Washington, Europe and the United Nations are reminiscent of nothing so much as the similar pabulum issued when Israel mounts an assault on Gaza or the West Bank.
The US brokered the 1979 Camp David peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, delivering billions of dollars' worth of economic and military aid to both countries.
United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon lambasted the country's security forces for Wednesday's killings. He condemned in the "strongest terms" the violence that occurred when the Egyptian military used force to clear Cairo of sit-ins and demonstrations.
Still, Ban in a statement released on Wednesday, refused to describe the Egyptian army's ouster of a democratically-elected government last month as a "military coup".
An Arab diplomat told IPS that Ban apparently is toeing the official US line that last month's military ouster of Egypt's first freely-elected president was an attempt to "restore democracy".
Asked about a proposal for Security Council intervention in Egypt, UN deputy spokesperson Eduardo del Buey told reporters that would be a decision for the council members to take. "The secretary-general will not opine on that," he said.
Ban said that only days ago he renewed his call for all sides in Egypt to reconsider their actions in light of new political realities and the imperative to prevent further loss of life. Ban said he regretted that Egyptian authorities chose instead to use force to respond to the ongoing demonstrations. He conveyed his condolences to the families of those killed and his wishes for a full and speedy recovery to those injured.
The secretary-general also said he is well aware that the vast majority of the Egyptian people, weary of disruptions to normal life caused by demonstrations and counter-demonstrations, want their country to go forward peacefully in an Egyptian-led process towards prosperity and democracy.
In the aftermath of the most recent violence, he urged all Egyptians to concentrate their efforts on promoting genuinely inclusive reconciliation.
While recognizing that political clocks do not run backwards, the secretary-general said he also believes firmly that violence and incitement from any side are not the answers to the challenges Egypt faces. With its rich history and diversity of views and experiences, it is not unusual for Egyptians to disagree on the best approach forward, he added.
What is in important, in the secretary-general's view, is that differing views be expressed respectfully and peacefully. To his regret, that is not what has happened.
Jim Lobe's blog on US foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com. Thalif Deen reports on the United Nations for IPS.
This is an edited version of two reports from Inter Press Service.