How To Get More Egyptian Blood On Our Hands

by Patrick Appel

A National Review editorial urges America to “back Egypt’s military.” It claims that the “military’s horrific violence … does not alter the U.S.’s calculus”:

The Muslim Brotherhood and the military government are now at war, and the latter remains the best hope for securing American interests and, ultimately, a free Egypt. We should therefore continue our financial and matériel support for the Egyptian military and maintain as close a relationship as possible to push the government toward our objectives.

In Commentary, Michael Rubin is more unhinged:

So long as the Muslim Brotherhood seeks to turn back the clock, impose its hateful and intolerant ideology upon Egyptians of all religiosities and religions, and refuses to abide by the pathway to transitional elections, and so long as it continues to fight in the streets, then it should suffer the consequences of its actions. And if those consequences result in exponentially higher Brotherhood casualties than army casualties, then so be it. That is the truest path to peace.

Ali Gharib pushes back:

The Muslim Brotherhood is a retrograde, conservative religious movement. In their ham-handed year-long reign over Egypt, they exposed themselves as lacking a serious commitment to democratic principles, such as inclusion and protection of minority rights. But it’s also the largest and best organized political force in Egypt. Rubin’s notion that the Brotherhood should be bloodied into submission represents exactly the same foundational flaw seen in the Brotherhood’s brief rule. Rubin demands, in fashion of old, hard-nosed Republican realists, that the U.S. continue its partnership with the Egyptian military, even amid its massacre of its own citizens. He’s their perfect, and willing, partner.

Larison counters National Review:

The NR editors find the violence earlier this week to be “horrific,” but their preferred policy ensures not only that there will be more of it, but that the U.S. will be actively supporting the most heavily-armed side as it commits new outrages. Instead of distancing the U.S. from the crackdown in Egypt, they would like Washington to be a full partner in it. That means having “as close a relationship as possible” with the government that just committed what is by some accounts the worst one-day massacre of civilian protesters by government forces since Tiananmen.

The Chaos In Cairo Continues

The American Response To Egypt, Ctd

Shadi Hamid sketches two ways forward in Egypt:

I think there are two options. First is the Algeria or eradication scenario, in which the military and old-regime elements simply try to destroy the Muslim Brotherhood. That’s the repression option. Then you have the referendum option. I don’t know how you would do it, exactly. The military has dug in so deep to its position, and it’s already calling the Muslim Brotherhood terrorists, so I don’t know if this is realistic. But typically what you’d do is have some vote where both sides agree to abide by the will of the people.

At least in the near term, though, I think we could just be in a continuation of this low-level civil conflict, this war of attrition between the two sides. A stalemate with violence, if you will. The short-term outlook is very dark now.

Ambers explains why the US has so little leverage in either scenario:

The Egyptian military holds all of the cards. And the guns. And the credibility with non-Islamists. It is not clear whether Egyptian nationalists prioritize the protection of the rights of Islamist minorities, which is one reason why the military can act with relative impunity and with immunity (to an extent) from a blow to their standing.

The U.S. relies on Egypt for counter-terrorism intelligence, and this relationship has been more or less continuous since well before September 11. Countries (like Russia) have used intelligence sharing as an excuse to get away with activities that diverge from U.S. policy interests. They understand that, since 9/11, the U.S. government has invested heavily in the concept of a grand global alliance against terrorism, and that the relative importance of a country’s intelligence relationship with U.S. counterparts is much higher.

Drum still wants to pull military aid:

I think it’s been fairly clear for over a month that the Egyptian military began planning all of this in the spring, possibly even earlier. It was rolled out very carefully, very strategically, and very ruthlessly. And while Mohamed Morsi may have been no saint, it probably didn’t matter. The military never had the slightest intention of allowing true civilian rule, whether from the Muslim Brotherhood or anyone else.

Marc Champion makes the Tiananmen Square comparison:

Admittedly, the Muslim Brotherhood protests aren’t the same as those by the students in Tiananmen Square. The Chinese protests were largely spontaneous, the protesters didn’t belong to any one organization, and they didn’t represent a (despotic albeit elected) previous government. Nevertheless, at least 700 people have died since the Egypt military assumed power in a coup July 3, most of them unarmed civilians. And it is just mendacious to suggest, as the Egyptian government does, that responsibility for the killing lies with the Brotherhood — no matter what the organization’s faults, and despite its members fighting back.

You have to ask: How would the world be reacting if the victims in Cairo were secularists or anti-communists?

Larison points out that the “US may not be endorsing specific parties or individuals, but it is tacitly endorsing the coup and the government that was created by it”:

Unfortunately, this manages to combine a bad policy of supporting the Egyptian military regime with the insulting pretense that the US is merely a passive observer, instead of a patron, of the offending government.

Much like Obama’s Syria policy, his reaction to the violence in Egypt seems guaranteed to please no one in Egypt or the US. The US isn’t in a position to improve conditions inside Egypt, but it does have control over how it reacts to events there. By law, the US is obliged to suspend military aid to Egypt because of the military’s role in deposing the elected president. Following this week’s brutality, Washington has the perfect excuse to do what it should have already done weeks ago.

Ali Gharib nods:

[T]he U.S. does fund unsavory regimes that brutalize and oppress their own people. That’s what makes Egypt so different from, say, Syria or Iran, where the U.S. isn’t tied directly to any faction by its bountiful support. And this, in turn, is exactly what makes Obama’s failure to take decisive action amid Egypt’s crisis all the more feckless. The president can not mention, if he so chooses, that the U.S. overwhelming supports one side of the current crisis, but it doesn’t make it any less true.

Beinart plays down the question of aid, but still thinks Obama’s words missed the mark:

We winked at a coup that overturned free elections in Algeria in 1992. We tried to foment one against Hamas after it won democratic elections among the Palestinians in 2006. And now, in the eyes of many, we’ve done the same in Egypt.

At this point, few will still believe Obama. Still, he should have said bluntly that the U.S. supports the rights of Islamist parties to peacefully seek power as long as they respect democratic norms. Freely elected Islamist governments, as Mohammed Morsi showed, can be frightening. But the alternative, Obama should have said, is worse. For the evidence, just turn on your TV screen.

Finally, Amy Davidson zooms out:

The arc of history is long, but it shouldn’t bend toward a mosque full of bodies. Is Egypt on a path toward democracy, on which it has encountered some bumps, or is it on a smooth road, paved to support armored vehicles, back to military rule? What is happening now is critical, not only for Egypt and for whatever the Administration hopes to achieve in the peace process (or prevent in Syria) but for a certain idea that democracy can work and, within a country, can be protected through democratic instruments. It will be tragic if Egypt demonstrates this only by negative example.

Previous Dish on the debate here.

Archbishop To Christianists: “Grow Up”

So good to read some sanity from the former Archbishop of Canterbury no less about the hyperbole of so much of the religious right. He’s more than a little uneasy about Western Christians claims of victimhood:

“When you have any contact with real persecuted minorities you learn to use the word ‘persecuted’ very chastely,” he said. “I think (Christians in the West) are made to feel uncomfortable at times … Don’t confuse it with the systematic brutality and often murderous hostility which means that every morning you get up wondering if you and your children are going to make it through the day. That is different, it’s real. It’s not quite what we’re facing in Western society. (That) level of not being taken very seriously or being made fun of — I mean for goodness sake, grow up. You have to earn respect if you want to be taken seriously in society.”

But the corollary to this is taking the actual persecution of Christians in the world seriously. I plead guilty to not paying sufficient attention to the plight of Coptic Christians in today’s Egypt. Over the last week, they have been subjected to horrifying mob attacks by frustrated and angry Islamists. Churches have been burned to the ground, whole communities terrorized, and the violence isn’t over:

Bishop Angaelos, the Cairo-born head of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, said he was told by colleagues in Egypt that 52 churches were attacked in a 24-hour span that started Wednesday, as well as numerous Christians’ homes and businesses.

Ishak Ibrahim, a researcher with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, told CNN he had confirmed attacks on at least 30 churches so far, in addition to the targeting of church-related facilities, including schools and cultural centers.

Those churches reportedly set ablaze Wednesday included St. George Church in Sohag, a city south of Cairo on the Nile River. And the new day brought new attacks. Prince Tadros Church in Fayoum, which is southwest of Cairo, was stormed and burned Thursday night, according to the official Middle East News Agency.

There is also a burning of books – perhaps the most telling sign of theocracy combined with brutal authoritarianism:

A Bible Society of Egypt statement posted online Wednesday reported the “complete burning and destruction” of its bookshops in the cities of Assiut and Minia, in southern Egypt. “Fortunately we were closed today, fearing such an attack, so none of our staff were injured,” wrote Ramez Atallah, the society’s general director. “The attackers demolished the metal doors protecting the bookshops, broke the store windows behind them and set the bookshops on fire.”

This is persecution, which the Coptic Christians have not responded to with similar violence. (Can you imagine Islamists exercizing similar restraint after the burning of countless Korans?) It helps explain why the Muslim Brotherhood squandered so much of its non-sectarian support during the Morsi government’s tenure. And why, when speaking of persecution of Christians, we need to distinguish the real thing from the bullshit.

Time To Cut Off Cairo’s Aid, Ctd

Jeffrey Goldberg writes that there is “no good reason to continue funding the Egyptian armed forces”:

The aid obviously hasn’t provided the White House with sufficient leverage, and it makes the U.S. complicit in what just happened and what will undoubtedly continue to happen. One argument for continued aid is that it encourages the military to maintain Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. But the military will do so whether or not the U.S. provides money and weapons, because it has decided that Islamist extremism, and not Israel, is Egypt’s main enemy. And it will be too busy persecuting Egyptians.

We are united again! Plumer suggests one reason to continue aid:

Earlier this year, Secretary of State John Kerry warned that cutting off aid could send Egypt’s already-struggling economy into a tailspin. “A hold up of aid might contribute to the chaos that may ensue because of their collapsing economy,” he said. If it seems odd that military aid has become so crucial to Egypt’s economy, consider this: The Egyptian military is utterly gigantic, one of the largest in the world, “controlling between 10 and 30 percent of the economy and employing hundreds of thousands of Egyptians.”

Lynch remains in favor of cutting aid to Egypt:

[I]t’s really symbolic more than anything. But it’s a powerful symbol. And you can see that the administration is still waffling. I’m not a believer in the idea that we absolutely have to take clear stands all the time, but this is one of those times when we have to. It’s not even just the 500 dead. The Egyptian military did what we explicitly told them not to do. How can we still pretend that this aid is giving us influence?

Fisher lists reasons for and against cutting aid. Earlier Dish on the subject here, here, and here.

When Do Sit-Ins Succeed?

Erica Chenoweth predicted that the pro-Morsi encampments would fail. What successful protest movements look like:

One of the most dangerous misconceptions about civil resistance is that several weeks of street demonstrations or sit-ins can bring about major systemic change. On the contrary, the average civil resistance campaign takes nearly three years to run its course. Although three years might sound like an eternity, the average violent campaign takes three times longer and is twice as likely to end in failure. History shows that civil resistance campaigns tend to succeed when they build the quantity and quality of participants, select tactics that provoke loyalty shifts among ruling elites, prepare enough to maintain nonviolent discipline, and skillfully change course under fire to minimize the damage to participants. All of this takes time, organization, preparation, and a good deal of strategic imagination.

(Hat tip: Joshua Tucker)

The American Response To Egypt

Max Fisher doubts the cancellation of the US-Egyptian military exercises this year will give us any leverage over the junta:

[The Generals] surely understood that they would pay a high price for this violence. If the generals are willing to accept 500-plus civilians deaths and the strong possibility of sectarian violence, maybe even a return to the Islamist insurgencies of the 1990s, then it’s hard to imagine they’ll be fussed by missing out on some military exercises with the United States.

Chotiner comes down hard on Obama’s announcement:

[T]he problem is not that Obama looks weak per se; it’s the policy behind the weakness. He hasn’t tried to use aid as leverage (and still refuses to use the word “coup”), he hasn’t (one assumes) put much pressure on American allies who are backing the Egyptian military, and he hasn’t even attempted to lay out the reasons that military rule in Egypt might, in the long term, play against American interests. One need only look to the Middle East and Pakistan to see how military repression can lead to extremism, and rampant anti-Americanism. It was notable that Obama took time to mention that Morsi’s undemocratic actions undermined his case for rule, but not that the military’s much more violent and undemocratic actions did the same.

Heilbrunn nods:

Obama further tried to console Egyptians by making it clear that the “United States strongly condemns” what is taking place. Big deal. It is Obama’s passivity that deserves condemnation. A forceful move would have been to suspend aid to Egypt’s military. So far, Washington appears to have derived zero leverage from continuing aid. Until Obama acts, Egypt’s military will interpret his inaction as acquiesence to its brutal measures.

Earlier Dish on the cancellation of military exercises here.

Time To Cut Off Cairo’s Aid, Ctd

A reader writes:

I don’t see how the US can continue to fund Egypt as this shit goes on, but cutting off aid to Egypt isn’t that simple. The aid to Egypt is basically a bribe to the Egyptian military to make sure Israel doesn’t have to fight a war along its Sinai border. That is how it started, and especially post-Mubarak, is how it has played out. I don’t think that Egypt’s ruling class would invade Israel at the drop of a hat if this bribe is removed, but if the Muslim Brotherhood crowd returns to power, that shit would heat up real fast.

Hence, presumably, the lack-luster Obama stance on the junta now running Egypt. Canceling military exercises is not likely to have any effect on the junta’s murderous contempt for civilian life and democratic processes. Here’s the rationale for such a lame response:

Administration officials fear that suspending that aid could destabilize the region, jeopardize Israel’s security, and would deprive the United States of its only lever to use on the generals. Analysts also say that if the United States withdrew its support, Egypt’s generals would be able to replace it with increased assistance from Saudi Arabia.

I can see these points, but when we have no way to prevent the massacres of yesterday, and when, with continued aid, we become complicit in it, our “only leverage” is no leverage.

The same, of course, can be said of aid to Israel: it has given the US no leverage at all over the continued expansion and entrenchment of Eretz Israel. It has simply made the US complicit in de facto apartheid on the West Bank and any bombs that kill Palestinian civilians. Israel, like Egypt, can live without it. And in my view, we should let them. In the coming epochal violence and shifts in the Muslim Middle East, America’s best policy, it seems to me, is distance.

But of course both aid to Israel and Egypt is also fueled by domestic pork-barrel politics. Another reader explains:

I worked throughout the ’90s for a contractor doing work in Cairo for USAID. Here’s how it worked: the US government gave Egypt $n billion per year. It amounted to roughly the same amount we gave Israel.

There was a difference, however. We said to Israel, “spend it wisely, my friends”. We said to Egypt, “we’ll have to approve how you spend it, and most of it should go to American contracting companies.” So the public finance project that we were working on for the Egyptian Ministry of Finance featured a lot of US-made computers, Jeep Cherokees, and guest lectures by IBM in Egypt and abroad. Doing things this way meant most of the money came back to the USA.  It became a shadow pork-barrel operation. If that’s still the way it works, it would explain why Congress has been reluctant so far to defund it.

Oh, and by the way.  Israel spends most of theirs on American weapons, so we get that back as well.  I think the English invented this system back in their empire days.

Yes, it is an ancient imperial device. But at least Britain also controlled the countries it aided. America today is an empire without any control over its client states – the worst of both worlds.

Egypt On The Edge

Juan Cole analyzes the situation:

Although al-Sisi said he recognized an interim civilian president, supreme court chief justice Adly Mansour, and although a civilian prime minister and cabinet was put in place to oversee a transition to new elections, al-Sisi is in charge. It is a junta, bent on uprooting the Muslim Brotherhood. Without buy-in from the Brotherhood, there can be no democratic transition in Egypt. And after Black Wednesday, there is unlikely to be such buy-in, perhaps for a very long time. Wednesday’s massacre may have been intended to forestall Brotherhood participation in civil politics. Perhaps the generals even hope the Brotherhood will turn to terrorism, providing a pretext for their destruction.

Paul Pillar has the same thought:

Wouldn’t the breeding of more Egyptian terrorists be a bad thing from the viewpoint of Egyptian military leaders? Not if they wish to present themselves as a bastion against terrorism and to lay claim as such to American support.

Larison adds:

Of course, it is perverse to consider the military a “bastion” against a threat that their actions are making worse, but this will probably be accepted here in the U.S. as a “necessary” arrangement.

Instead of doing our best to disentangle the U.S. from our ties to the leaders of the coup, which seems the only sane thing to do at this point, Washington will find new excuses for why this week’s disaster requires even more “engagement” than before.

Issandr El Amrani worries about a militarized Muslim Brotherhood:

An Islamist camp that, as elements of it are apparently beginning to, sets fire to churches and attacks police stations is one that becomes much easier to demonize domestically and internationally. But it is also much more unpredictable than Egypt’s homegrown violent Islamist movements were in the 1980s and 1990s, because there is a context of a globalized jihadi movement that barely existed then, and because the region as a whole is turmoil and Egypt’s borders are not nearly as well controlled as they were then (and today’s Libya is a far less reliable neighbor than even the erratic Colonel Qadhafi was then.)

Shadi Hamid fears that Egypt’s military junta will prove worse than Mubarak:

Democratic transitions, even in the best of circumstances, are uneven, painful affairs. But it no longer makes much sense to say that Egypt is in such a transition. Even in the unlikely event that political violence somehow ceases, the changes ushered in by the July 3 military coup and its aftermath will be exceedingly difficult to reverse. The army’s interventionist role in politics has become entrenched. Rather than at least pretending to rise above politics, the military and other state bodies have become explicitly partisan institutions. This will only exacerbate societal conflict in a deeply polarized country. Continuous civil conflict, in turn, will be used to justify permanent war against an array of internal and foreign enemies, both real and imagined.

Cook thinks that both the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian military have imitated the Mubarak regime:

Just as Egypt’s political system before the January 25 uprising was rigged in favor of Mubarak and his constituents, the Brothers sought to stack the new order in their favor, and today’s winners will build a political system that reflects their interests. This is neither surprising nor sui generis. In the United States, rules, regulations, and laws are a function of the powerful, too. But in America, the capacity for change exists; whereas in Egypt, those institutions are absent. Although virtually all political actors have leveraged the language of political reform and espoused liberal ideas, they have nevertheless sought to wield power through exclusion. This has created an environment in which the losers do not process their grievances through elections, parliamentary debate, consensus-building, and compromise — but through military intervention and street protests. This plays into the hands of those powerful groups embedded within the state who have worked to restore the old order almost from the time that Hosni Mubarak stepped down into ignominy two and a half years ago.

Peter Hessler likewise focuses on the effect of Egypt’s past regimes:

In Egypt, the current conflict reflects the vastly different responses that groups can have to a fledgling democracy after decades of dictatorship. For the Brotherhood, this means stubbornly following what it believes to be the correct and legitimate political path, even if it alienates others and leads to disaster; for the military, it’s a matter of implementing the worst instincts of the majority. In each case, one can recognize a seed of democratic instinct, but it’s grown in twisted ways, because the political and social environment was damaged by the regimes of the past half-century.

Egypt Is Erupting Again, Ctd

What many are calling the iconic image of the past 24 hours:


From the Getty description of the scene captured by Mohammed Abdel Moneim:

An Egyptian woman tries to stop a military bulldozer from hurting a wounded youth during clashes that broke out as Egyptian security forces moved in to disperse supporters of Egypt’s deposed president Mohamed Morsi in a huge protest camp near Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in eastern Cairo on August 14, 2013. The fate of the young man is not certain, but at the time of taking these photos he was seriously injured having been shot by birdshot. For further information refer to this link.

For more, photojournalist Mosa’ab Elshamy has published a powerful gallery of images he took during today’s crackdown. Below are some additional tweets since our last update: