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Egypt A Hard Nut To Crack, Not Only For Obama

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By J. C. Suresh | IDN-InDepth NewsReport

TORNTO (IDN) – President Barack Obama is coming under growing pressure at home to order "an immediate suspension" of military aid to Egypt and work with the United Nations, the African Union and other international institutions as well as Europe and Arab countries to put concerted pressure on the Egyptian military government to reverse its current policies.

Such persistent appeals are coming at a point in time when analysts stress that since the military took control in July and ousted President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in the aftermath of popular demand, the Gulf sheikdoms have stepped in with more than $12 billion of concessionary loans and critical energy deliveries with a view to backing General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s hard line. “The United States' leverage pales in comparison: a mere $1.5 billion in annual assistance, $1.3 billion of which goes to the military,” says Isobel Coleman, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Nevertheless, 'The Working Group on Egypt' comprising leading think-tanks maintains: "Continued U.S. aid sends a signal to the Egyptian military – and to the world – that the United States condones the Egyptian leadership’s actions." Alternately, says the Group, the Congress should suspend military assistance to Washington's close ally in the Middle East until such time as five critical conditions are fulfilled.

These, according to Group, are that: the Egyptian state's use of force against peaceful protesters stops; the state of emergency is lifted; all political prisoners are released unless credible evidence of violent crimes is presented to the judiciary; and the present Egyptian regime demonstrates a credible commitment to an open and fair political process. This must include freedom of assembly, association, and expression, and the participation of all citizens acting peacefully in the return to a democratically elected government and the establishment of a democratic system of governance.

The Group said in a statement on August 16: "The United States should use its influence to ensure that no international lending agencies provide financing to the government of Egypt until these conditions are met. The Obama administration should also work with Europe, Arab countries, the United Nations, the African Union, and other nations and international institutions to put concerted pressure on the Egyptian military government to reverse its current policies and launch Egypt on a path, finally, towards a genuine democratic transition in Egypt. The alternative is not only morally unconscionable, but also a direct threat to regional stability and U.S. interests."

The Working Group on Egypt was launched in 2010 by Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institution and Michele Dunne of the Atlantic Council, the two co-chairs, and is made up of more than a dozen scholars and experts on Egypt and on American foreign policy. "It is a nonpartisan initiative that seeks to shape an effective U.S. policy response to Egypt’s transition and to press for democratic reform and respect for human rights in Egypt," says Kagan.

The Group said: "Despite the mistakes committed by former president Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood over the past year in Egypt, and despite the incitement and violence demonstrated by some Brotherhood supporters . . . the killing of hundreds of protesters carried out by the Egyptian military government was unnecessary, unjustified, and in contravention of international human rights standards. These events demand a shift in U.S. policy that is urgent and long overdue."

The Group said it agrees with President Obama's "decision to cancel the (biennial) Bright Star joint military exercise, with his condemnation of violence against civilians, with his emphasis on the need for the Egyptian government to respect the human rights of all its citizens, and with his call for positive steps towards reconciliation."

"However, the statement added, "the president's failure to suspend aid to the Egyptian military is a strategic error that undercuts those objectives and weakens U.S. credibility, after repeated calls by the U.S. administration for Egyptian authorities to avoid bloodshed have been disregarded."

The statement continues: "Whatever President Obama may say about U.S. support for democratic values in Egypt, continued U.S. aid sends a signal to the Egyptian military – and to the world – that the United States condones the Egyptian leadership’s actions. The continuation of aid removes a source of meaningful international pressure that could help to forestall future atrocities and prevent further steps toward consolidation of an undemocratic system in Egypt."

Signatories to the statement include: Elliott Abrams, Council on Foreign Relations; Ellen Bork, Foreign Policy Initiative; Daniel Calingaert, Freedom House; Reuel Gerecht, Foundation for Defense of Democracies; Amy Hawthorne, Atlantic Council; Neil Hicks, Human Rights First; Peter Mandaville, Ali Vural Ak Center for Islamic Studies George Mason University; Stephen McInerney, Project on Middle East Democracy; and Tamara Wittes Saban, Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.

Egyptian Rights Groups Condemn

The use of lethal force on August 14, 2013 by the security forces when dispersing the sit-in by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and its supporters at Rabia al-Adawiya Square in the Cairo governorate and Nahda Square in Giza has also been strongly criticised by Egyptian rights groups. The statement, distributed by Toronto-based IFEX on August 15, also lambasted the MB for pursuing political violence and terrorism and seeking to spur the country toward a civil war.

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, and the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, fear that increased terrorism and the threat of civil war may lead the authorities to take further exceptional measures to protect citizens' lives.

“But instead the state must immediately adopt a serious plan to contain the violence and restore the political process hijacked by security solutions in the capital and, before that, Sinai, where security has failed to protect even police stations and government facilities. Here we note that we reminded the new political authority after June 30 of the need to avoid the mistakes of previous governments that ignored demands for security and political reform,” the statement said.

The groups said the security forces’ action on August 14 had left “hundreds dead and thousands seriously injured”, adding that the security apparatus could have avoided this human tragedy if it had complied with international rules and standards for the dispersal of assemblies.

The statement said in the previous weeks, the authorities had failed to do their duty to take the necessary legal measures to protect public security and citizens, particularly residents and passers-by in the aforementioned two areas, which in turn allowed weapons, ammunition, and fortifications to enter the sit-ins and led to killing, torture, and physical assaults on journalists with impunity.

That some participants in the sit-in, and its leaders committed criminal acts, were in possession of weapons, and engaged in violence does not give the security authorities a license to impose collective punishment and use excessive force when dispersing the sit-in, according to international standards for the right to peacefully assemble, the statement said.

“Moreover, when choosing to use excessive force, decision makers did not show due consideration to containing retaliatory violence by the MB and its supporters, although retribution against Coptic Egyptians and public incitement to terrorism began several weeks ago,” it added.

The statement went on to say: “This raises additional concerns about the competence of political and security decision-making at this critical juncture, particularly regarding the consequences for human rights. Indeed, the policies and practices pursued by the authorities when faced with the two sit-ins, since the removal of President Morsy on July 3 and including the storming of the protests yesterday, represent an utter failure to apply the rule of law and respect citizens' rights and the right to life and security, and an inability to comprehend the political repercussions of mismanaging this crisis over the last six weeks.

“As a result, the largest number of people were killed in the shortest span of time in a political assembly since January 28, 2011, while people's lives are now at risk in the coming months and years due to a potential increase in terrorist acts.

“In response to the storming of the sit-ins, members and supporters of the MB terrorized citizens in the capital and other provinces and attempted to storm several government facilities and police stations, killing some officers. They also attacked churches in Upper Egypt and Sinai, destroying and torching several of them, and threatened Christian citizens with further physical violence in several cities. Although the undersigned organizations previously cautioned the MB against such deplorable conduct and asked it to stop its incitement against Christians, the group disregarded these pleas and showed no concern for the lives of citizens it claims to be legitimately empowered to govern.

“The increased scope of these criminal acts indicates that the Muslim Brotherhood has decided to pursue political violence and terrorism for the time being; instead of engaging in self-criticism and recognizing its failure to maintain the trust of citizens who voted for it, the group seeks to spur the country toward a civil war, a possibility that first reared its head in November.

“In December 2012, MB supporters killed their political opponents and tortured others, while brotherhood leaders began fomenting anti-Christian sectarian incitement. The anti-Coptic incitement and threats continued unabated up to the demonstrations of June 30, 2013 and, with the removal of President Morsy on July 3, morphed into sectarian violence, which was sanctioned by the MB, both by their complicit silence and refusal to condemn these crimes and by the continued anti-Coptic rhetoric heard from the group's leaders on the stage at Rabia al-Adawiya throughout the sit-in. Despite this, the security apparatus took no action to protect the lives of Christian citizens and their houses of worship, and therefore bear responsibility for failing to stop the violence.” [IDN-InDepthNews – August 17, 2013]

Picture: Pro-Morsi Rally | Credit: Wikimedia Commons

2013 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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