Sunday, August 18, 2013

Egypt: military crackdown brings emergency but massacres continue

Daily Sun
Sunday, 18th August, 2013

M. Serajul Islam

Senator John McCain hit bull’s eye with his description of Egypt’s current rulers that “if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it is a duck” to describe the character of the military regime that ousted the democratically elected regime of Mohammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Senator was in Cairo early this week before the latest massacres and declaration of emergency. The Obama administration was taken by surprise when General Abdel Fattah al-Sissi used the dissatisfaction of a vast section of Egyptians to overthrow Mohammad Morsi and incarcerate him and top leaders of Muslim Brotherhood (MB). It used strong words against the ouster of a democratic regime but did little else.

The Obama administration however flip-flopped thereafter in dealing with the rising ambitions of Army Chief General Sisi. Its strong objection to the takeover of a democratic regime changed as the new regime appointed a civilian interim government in which even the respected Noble Peace Laureate Dr El Baradei joined as the Vice-president in charge of Foreign Affairs. The Obama administration warmed up to the military-backed government when it promised a return to democracy with both presidential and parliamentary elections within the next six months. It also agreed to release a consignment of F-16 aircraft as a sign that it was not unhappy with the military takeover. The military took this as a signal of US’ support for the new regime. Encouraged, it decided to deal with the MB’s refusal to accept the change by siege in the streets by force that resulted in deaths running into hundreds before last Wednesday’s massacre that killed many hundreds more.

The deaths that occurred before last Wednesday forced the Obama administration to reevaluate its acquiescence of the military. It suspended the decision to supply the installment of the F-16 aircrafts. The military regime reacted publicly to the changed stance of the Obama administration on its decision to crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. In fact, in a rare interview he gave to the Washington Post, General Sissy strongly criticised the Obama administration and accused it for its failure in acknowledging and fully endorsing what he described as movement of “a free people who rebelled against an unjust political rule.”

The interview of the general left no one in doubt that he was beginning to show “swelling ambitions” of becoming a modern-day Nasser and that he had little intention of returning Egypt towards democracy that the Obama administration believed he would. The interview was but just one proof of his real intentions of bringing Egypt back under the feet of the military and that the military rulers had little intensions of returning Egypt to democracy. When he called for a “mandate” from the people that started the conflicts in the streets with Muslim Brotherhood, everybody saw the eerie similarity between Nasser’s call in 1956 for a similar mandate that led to conflicts in the streets with Muslim Brotherhood, the banning of the organisation and Egypt’s half a century and more long tryst with military dictatorship.

In an editorial on July 26 the Washington Post wrote a hard-hitting article criticising the Obama administration’s dealings with the military regime. The editorial urged the White House that time was running out to control the General’s growing ambitions to bring Egypt from the brink. Within days after the editorial, the military armed with the “mandate” killed over a hundred Muslim Brotherhood supporters in the streets of Cairo. Senior Ministers of the regime dismissed media reports about deaths in hundreds by claiming that only a few were killed and that the deaths occurred as a consequence of attack by the supporters of Muslim Brotherhood. Even in the face of such massacres and the denial where the media recorded and exposed the killings, the Obama administration needs to do what many considered was absolutely necessary; rein the new regime from moving towards an oppressive military dictatorship and putting the final nail in the coffin of the “Arab Spring.

The Obama administration’s soft pedaling on events in Egypt sent the wrong signals to the Middle East countries under hereditary rule that are apprehensive about the expanding effects of the Arab Spring. Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait together have offered the new regime US$ 8 billion to shore up its depleting coffers as a consequence of economic downtrend in Egypt due to political disturbances since the fall of the Mubarak regime. The regime lost its patience and cracked down with tanks this week on MB supporters who had camped in two places of Cairo and refused to end their siege. The military/police action killed 278 people that included 235 civilians and 43 police officers and injuring thousands. The MB claimed that over 2 thousands have been killed.

The latest deadly clashes resulted in the regime’s decision to call emergency. Egyptians were immediately reminded of the regime of Hosni Mubarak that they thought they had buried, that had used emergency to keep them under perennial dictatorship where people’s rights were trampled, where the people lived in permanent fear of the military and the secret police. In the wake of the emergency, Vice-president El Baradei resigned, protesting opposition to the regime’s handling of the MB supporters. Egypt watchers are apprehending that the country may be sliding to a civil war where Muslim Brotherhood is not just refusing to go away but showing the determination to fight to the end. What is dangerous is not just the fight between the military and Muslim Brotherhood supporters but also between the party and other groups.

Many are calling on the Obama administration to use the card that it has not used so far, call the takeover by the military a coup and let mandatory constitutional requirement that US must withhold aid to any country where military takeover by pushing out a democratic regime takes effect.

This was what Senator McCain was demanding from the White House with his reference to the “duck”. The demand has assumed a sense of dire urgency by the latest massacres in the streets of Cairo and the declaration of emergency that has failed to deter the MB and the disturbances have spread into cities elsewhere, particularly in Alexandria. At the time of filing this article, President Obama warned the military that US aid would stop and postponed the joint military exercises but still fell short of calling the military takeover a military coup that would mandatorily stop all US aid to Egypt. Meanwhile, world pressure against the military regime is mounting and so is the pressure on the United States to take leadership to end the brutal ambitions of the new general in Cairo and his military cohorts. The emergency has had little effect on the resolve of the Muslim Brotherhood to fight and the massacres by the military that Turkey has called genocide, are mounting.

The writer is a retired career Ambassador and former Bangladesh Ambassador to Egypt.

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