Pretending Egypt Isn’t Happening

Jennifer Rubin, a conservative writer at the Washington Post, wrote this article about the problem that the United States now faces in dealing with Egypt. 

Since the overthrow of Morsi’s government, the White House has been largely silent.  President Obama’s Administration refused to call it a coup.  What the hell else would it be?  A democratically elected government was overthrown by the military.  If you look up “coup” in the dictionary that is damn near the exact definition.  From that point forward, President Obama has been silent.  He has offered nothing.

The Obama White House gambled that the problem would be short-lived.  They gambled that the military in Egypt would hold to its word that they would only be in power for a short time and would quickly establish a new government that would be democratically elected and bring happiness to the people of Egypt.  General Sissi, who led the overthrow, promised that he and his military had no interest in maintaining power over the people.  They had no intent of causing problems in Egypt.  They promised a smooth transition, and Barack Obama bought it.

Would there be protests? Sure.  Would there be violence?  Yes, but the hope was that it would be sporadic and isolated.  Would the military hold its word?  That was the hope.  However, we quickly saw a crackdown on all things about the Muslim Brotherhood.  Leaders were arrested, protests were broken up, and any power that the opposition had was quickly gone.  However, the White House remained silent.  Remember, it wasn’t coup. 

Images started pouring out of Egypt of people that were killed by sniper fire from military sharpshooters.  Protests became unruly and confrontations more frequent.  The White House?  Nothing.  The Obama Administration still hoped that the military would hold its word and this whole mess would go away.

Fast forward to this past week.  The opposition began large-scale sit-ins to protest the military’s intervention.  The military responded, saying that it would use force to breakup these protests. Sure enough, the military did.  They began a brutal crackdown on the protesters.  Hundreds, maybe thousands, were killed.  The images on social media are horrifying.  Hospitals that have room after room filled with dead bodies, and medics and journalists were killed by indiscriminate sniper fire. 

To be clear, the protesters were no saints either.  The protests were not always peaceful.  There were images of security personnel being pulled from their cars and beaten to death.  There are reports of dozens of military personnel killed by protestors.  Both sides were in the wrong in the violence that occurred over the past few days.  There is no good side versus bad side.  They both incited the issues at hand. 

How did the Administration respond?  Secretary of State Kerry gave brief remarks at the State Department calling for the “peace process” to play out.  As Rubin notes, he took no questions and offered no policy announcement.  The peace process?  What peace process?  Whatever peace process there has been clearly isn’t working.

Finally, today President Obama said something.  Was what he said meaningful?  No, but at least he said something.  The problem is that President Obama spoke today and there is STILL no policy announcement.  He called for peace and calm.  The peace and calm has not worked!  It isn’t hard to see.  Peace and calm are nowhere to be found in Egypt and there is absolutely no reason to think that because the President of the United States asked for calm that both sides suddenly will. 

There is no easy answer on Egypt.  There is no way for the United States to sit on the sideline.  We are the world’s foremost superpower and, for better or worse, this is part of the job that comes with it.  We must do something in Egypt.  As a promoter of democracy around the world, we cannot sit idly by while a military overthrows a government and kills thousands of its own people. 

Today, President Obama announced that he had cancelled a military exercise with Egypt.  That’ll scare them.  That will really speak volumes to the Egyptians when we are still giving them $1.3 billion in aid.  (Note: please read previous paragraph with extreme sarcasm).

Further, the problem is that now that the United States has stood by without any sort of organized policy on Egypt we have reached a point of no turning back.  As Sam Tadros from the Hoover Institution points out in the article, this is now a zero-sum game.  One side in Egypt has to win.  The United States could have taken a proactive stance from the beginning on Egypt.  Is it a guarantee that it would have worked?  Far from it.  President Obama could have taken the strongest stance possible from day one and there is a chance that we would be in the same situation, but it would have been better that we tried.  Trying and failing is better than doing nothing and watching thousands of people die.

The problem, and my biggest fear, about the ongoing situation is that this has no “good” ending.  The Muslim Brotherhood is not going to go away quietly.  The only way they go away is if they are removed by force.  These protests will continue around Egypt, and my fear is that these brutal crackdowns will continue too.  Thousands and thousands will die.  What started as a coup could turn into all-out civil war.

What’s the worst-case scenario?  We thought Syria was bad, but Egypt has the potential to be much, much worse.  I don’t mean to predict doom.  This whole thing could take a positive turn and things get better.  It is certainly possible, but the opposite is possible too.  As the article concludes, Egypt has a much more powerful military than Syria.  What happens if the Egyptian generals attempt to eradicate the opposition much in the ways that Bashar al-Assad has in Syria?  The result would be casualties on a massive scale.  Tens or hundreds of thousands will die.  Again, we don’t know what will happen.  That is the worst case scenario, and it hopefully/probably wont be that bad.  But, again, what if it is?

As Rubin writes, “[Obama]’s dropped the ball on Egypt and the entire region, leaving the United States with few options and the Egyptian people to a bloody future in the short run and a repressive authoritarian junta in the longer run. This is a policy failure of the highest order.”

What has happening in Egypt is a nightmare, and it could get even worse.

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