August 14 2013 will surely stand out as the bloodiest day in Egypt’s turbulent history since the ouster of the long serving octogenarian dictator Hosni Mubarak in early 2011. After a six week standoff between deposed President Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood supporters and the Army- backed interim civilian government, the latter decided to clear the protestors from their make shift camps by brute force. I do not think that the Egyptian Army has covered itself in glory by this operation among largely unarmed civilians.The Health Ministry claimed that 235 civilians were killed in the operation and thousands wounded. It also said that 43 policemen had lost their lives. The Muslim Brotherhood- Morsi’s support base- which was on the receiving end of this assault claimed more than 2,200 protesters had been killed and 10,000 wounded. The accurate figure of casualties is somewhere in between these ghastly statistics.The interim civilian government which appears to be little more than a front for Army strong man Gen Abdel Fatah al- Sisi, has suffered its first defection: the resignation of its Vice President, Mohamed El Baradei a former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and a Nobel-laureate. Baradei who had reportedly counseled patience and restraint via-a-vis the protestors said that he could not continue in office as “we have reached a state of harder polarization and more dangerous division, with the social fabric in danger of tearing because violence only begets violence”. Baradei’s departure will be a serious blow to the civilian façade erected by Gen Sisi.
Morsi may have been an inexperienced and inept leader who had antagonized the secular strata of Egyptian society by his ham handed policies to exert total control over all levers of power. He needed to be more accommodative as President of all Egyptians and not representing only the Muslim Brotherhood. The 85 year old Brotherhood is both powerful and influential but it represents only an estimated 25% of Egyptians.However if the tenure of democratically elected governments is to rest on street demonstrations, then democracy has been supplanted by mob rule.The vociferous denunciations of the anti-Morsi crowds gave the Egyptian Army the political space to portray that it was bending to the “popular will” in removing Morsi. This was for public consumption. In actuality the wily Sisi, a Morsi appointee who had earlier sworn fealty to Sisi with the words, “My neck before yours, Mr.President!” had taken advantage of the anti-Morsi demonstrations to launch a coup d’etat. He is now in the driving seat as the defacto ruler of Egypt. Only he knows how long he will revel in this position.
There was the customary denunciatory hand wringing from the international community: from the UN Secretary General, the US, the EU, Turkey and others. Such entreaties to restore democracy will not have much resonance with the generals ruling Egypt, a majority of whom, incidentally, have been appointed governors of provinces. The US has led from behind on Egypt since Sisi’s take over of power. The US calculation probably is that it does not want to jeopardize its long standing links with the Egyptian generals by leaning too heavily on them. This is a short sighted approach. Now is the time to show moral indignation by cutting off the dollars 1 billion plus aid that the US gives annually to the Egyptian Army. The generals will notice this act.The world will notice it and the Egyptian people will notice it. Sometimes a moral response over riding considerations of realpolitik is more effective.
In conclusion I would like to quote today’s New York Times, “Analysts said the ferocity of the latest crackdown would put the White House’s strategy to it’s sternest test”. It went on to quote Bruce Reidel a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution “If it looks like the US effectively colluded in a counterrevolution, then all the talk about democracy and Islam, about a new American relationship with the Islamic world, will be judged to have been the height of hypocrisy”.