Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Military Coup and Violence in Egypt

Imagine that the US Armed Forces, whose officer class generally tends politically conservative, lose patience with President Obama. The generals don't approve of what they see as his Constitutional end runs, his recess appointments, or his defense policies. Troops surround the White House, easily and casually disarm, subdue or eliminate any laughably outgunned loyalist Secret Service/FBI agents/DC police officers. They take the President and his associates into custody. The military shuts down unfriendly media. Liberal supporters lead marches or sit-ins but the military brass has given the green light. Protesters are arrested or killed by the dozens. The military also issues arrest orders for hundreds of other Administration supporters, who flee overseas or go underground. 

The military appoints John Boehner temporary President. But Boehner is a patsy. Reporters speak to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the real boss. The Chairman speaks vaguely of future elections but won't commit to a date. He won't even admit that he initiated a coup. He claims that his actions were necessary to save democracy. The Department of Justice finds new crimes with which to charge former President Obama. 

Undeterred, the deposed President's supporters organize a massive sit-in at the Washington Monument. They are surrounded by police and military personnel in tanks. After 10 days of peaceful protest, one morning without warning the military and the police move in. This time instead of dozens being killed, it's hundreds and possibly even thousands. People are gunned down from helicopters without regard to age, sex or actual threat. Snipers target protest leaders. Those who are lucky enough to get arrested face charges that could place them in prison for decades. There are then bloody revenge attacks on police, military and civilians who are believed, rightly or wrongly, to support the coup. Fox News, Investors Business Daily, The Washington Times, The WSJ, The National Review, and other "responsible" media speak of the need for stability and the necessity of fighting the liberal-socialist threat.

Well that is what has been going on in Egypt over the past six weeks. Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, supported by the Muslim Brotherhood, was heading down a political path that was unpopular within broad segments of the country, though it's unclear whether the majority wanted him out. Unfortunately for Morsi however, what he saw as reforms or political consolidation, was seen as unacceptable by the military, who overthrew him on July 3. Defense Minister General Abdel Fatah-el-Sisi gave the order. I do not wish to defend Morsi or the Muslim Brotherhood. I don't care one way or the other about them. But whether the US liked it or not Morsi was the freely and fairly elected President of Egypt. There is a system by which Morsi can be checked and/or removed from office. Military intervention should not be part of that system.

US law clearly indicates that US military aid is not supposed to go to a nation which has had a coup. In a move that is sadly typical, the Administration has claimed that although that may be the law, it is not required to determine if a coup has taken place. Additionally Secretary of State John Kerry stated that the generals were "restoring democracy".

This weak response may well have emboldened the Egyptian military establishment to give the orders for the latest bloody assault on the protesters and also for the apparent murder of 36 prisoners who were alleged to support the deposed President Morsi. At least 1000 people have died so far. Most of them were apparently demonstrators.
CAIRO — The Egyptian government acknowledged that its security forces had killed 36 Islamists in its custody on Sunday, as the country’s military leaders and Islamists vowed to keep up their fight over Egypt’s future.
The deaths were the fourth mass killing of civilians since the military took control on July 3, but the first time so many had died while in government custody.The news of the deaths came on a day when there appeared to be a pause in the street battles that had claimed more than 1,000 lives since Wednesday, most of them Islamists and their supporters gunned down by security forces.
The Islamists took measures on Sunday to avoid further confrontations, including canceling several protests over the military’s ouster of a democratically elected Islamist-led government.
While confirming the killings of the detainees on Sunday, the Ministry of the Interior said the deaths were the consequence of an escape attempt by Islamist prisoners. But officials of the main Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, described the deaths as “assassinations,” and said that the victims, which it said numbered 52, had been shot and tear-gassed through the windows of a locked prison van.

Both the country of Israel and Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States have lobbied the US not to cut off military aid. The second group has even offered to make up any loss in aid to Egypt out of its own pocket. After all the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia wouldn't want its own subjects to look at successful democracy in Egypt and start to get big ideas about political changes. There are also US interests to consider. These include favorable access to the Suez Canal, overflights and refueling over Egyptian airspace, as well as concerns about the nature of the state that Morsi or other Muslim Brotherhood backed politicians might seek to run. I mean, judging by some of their supporters' actions, religious freedom and safety for minority points of view or minority public safety don't appear to be high on their agenda.

So there aren't any good answers. But there is a right answer. The US simply can't try to gin up support for the overthrow of Syrian President Assad by piously claiming "He's killing his own people" when Egyptian generals are doing the same thing. The US can't claim to support democracy and lecture other nations on free and fair elections and then turn a blind eye to a military coup. The lesson that the US and its Arab client states are teaching opposition movements is clear. Elections don't matter. If you win we will try to get rid of you via other means, including violence. So opposition movements will not try to engage in electoral politics, rationally deciding that such things are meaningless. This means more radicalization and violence in the long term. Now this is good if you happen to be the world's largest arms dealer like the US, but I'm not sure it's actually good for living beings who aren't weapons merchants. The US should follow the law and suspend the military aid (which is frankly a subsidy to US military contractors) Also I don't think it's in the US interest to let any client state dictate what our response should be. The tail doesn't get to wag the dog.


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