The crackdown in Egypt
Democracy and hypocrisy
The West’s failure to condemn the shooting of unarmed Islamists in Cairo was craven and shortsighted
REMEMBER the opprobrium heaped on Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, in June for using tear gas and water-cannon against his people? Imagine the outrage if Vladimir Putin ordered Russian troops to fire live ammunition into demonstrators on the streets of Moscow. But over the weekend, when Egypt’s generals set about killing scores of protesters, the West responded with furrowed brows and pleas for all sides to refrain from violence. Such meekness betrays not only a lack of moral courage, but also a poor sense of where Egypt’s—and the West’s—real interests lie.
The shooting took place in Cairo early on July 27th near the parade ground where, three decades earlier, President Anwar Sadat had been assassinated. Supporters of Muhammad Morsi, ousted in a coup at the beginning of July, were marching to demand that the army should restore him to the presidency. Riot police (and their civilian supporters) opened fire. More than 80 members of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mr Morsi’s party, died; many more were injured.
After the killing, Barack Obama kept his counsel. It fell to John Kerry, the American secretary of state, to speak out—and then he merely called on Egypt’s leaders to “step back from the brink”. Likewise in Britain David Cameron, the prime minister, left it to William Hague, the foreign secretary, to rap the generals over the knuckles. America’s protest at the ousting of Mr Morsi had been to delay the supply of some F-16 fighter jets to Egypt. But that modest gesture was more than undone just before the shootings. In an unwise precedent, the administration declined to say Egypt had suffered a coup, because to do so could have triggered an automatic block on aid.
The Muslim Brothers—and other Muslims across the Middle East—will conclude from all this that the West applies one standard when secularists are under attack and another when Islamists are. Democracy, they will gather, is not a universal system of government, but a trick for bringing secularists to power. It is hard to think of a better way for the West to discourage the Brothers from re-entering Egypt’s political process.
In any case, even supposing that the Brothers wanted to return to politics, it is unclear whether the army would let them back in. The generals now know that the West has given them more or less a free hand to do as they will. The army chief, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, has claimed that marches on July 26th gave him a “mandate” to confront “potential terrorism”. Already, the new government is resurrecting the hated arms of Hosni Mubarak’s security state.
The liberal Egyptians who teamed up with the army to oust Mr Morsi will come to regret their enthusiasm. Certainly, the Brothers ruled Egypt badly. They set about consolidating their own power and neglected the economy. They were chaotic and partisan. But Islamists make up a large part of the Egyptian population. The only way they can be excluded from politics is if the security forces hold much of the power. And if that happens, Egypt will not function as a free country.
Too clever by half
The West has an interest in the spread of democracy—and not just in Egypt. The process is neither easy nor inevitable. No doubt some clever student of realpolitik advised Mr Obama and Mr Cameron to keep in with the generals because they are in charge. But by so conspicuously holding back criticism first of the coup and now of the shooting of unarmed civilians, the West has confirmed the view of enemies of democracy everywhere: that its preaching is riddled with hypocrisy. The next time Mr Obama urges some authoritarian to embrace civil rights, he will find his case that bit harder to make.
1 August 2013 Last updated at 14:33 GMT
Egypt protesters defy cabinet threat to end sit-ins
The BBC’s Jim Muir says there is a defiant mood in the camp – with protesters willing to die for President Morsi
Thousands of supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi are defying a new warning from the military-backed cabinet by continuing their sit-ins in the capital, Cairo.
The country’s interim leaders have ordered police to end ongoing protests at two sites in the city.
But Mr Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and other loyalists say they have no option but to continue the month-long sit-ins.
The United States has again urged Egypt to respect freedom of assembly.
Pro-Morsi demonstrators want to see the Islamist leader reinstated. He was removed by the army on 3 July, after just one year in office.
They have ignored previous threats of removal despite clashes with security forces that have left dozens dead.
The Egyptian interior ministry says gradual steps will be taken to disperse the crowds.
Information Minister Dorreya Sharaf el-Din: “The cabinet has decided to take all necessary measures"
“The continuation of the dangerous situation in Rabaa al-Adawiya and Nahda squares, and consequent terrorism and road blockages, are no longer acceptable given the threat to national security," it said in a statement on Wednesday.
Police had been tasked to end the demonstrations “within the law and the constitution", it added.
On Thursday, the ministry urged the protesters to “let reason and the national interest prevail, and to quickly leave".
It said it would guarantee the safety of departing protesters and they would not be pursued by security forces.
But Mr Morsi’s loyalists immediately rejected the call.
“We are going to continue our peaceful sit-ins and our peaceful protests," Alaa Mostafa, a spokeswoman for the Anti Coup Alliance, told the AFP news agency.
Earlier Essam el-Erian, vice-president of the Freedom and Justice Party, the Brotherhood’s political wing, said the protesters would not be deterred.
“There are expectations of a massacre taking place in front of the eyes of the whole world," he said.
“The free people in Egypt and the world must stand against this stupid cabinet mandate for the police to end the sit-in protests."
The main sit-in is at a square near the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in the capital’s north-east, where clashes left some 70 people dead last Saturday, and in Nahda Square near the main campus of Cairo University.
Earlier, Brotherhood spokesman Gehad el-Haddad said the decision to clear the camps had been taken by a “gang" that had no respect for the law.
The government has not given details of when the clearance could happen.
On Wednesday US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf appealed for violence to be avoided.
“We have continued to urge the interim government officials and security forces to respect the right of peaceful assembly," she said.
“That obviously includes sit-ins. So we’ve made that point publicly and privately, and we’ll continue to do so."
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, urged “all political parties to engage in dialogue", as he is continuing to meet senior government and Brotherhood officials.
Morsi is ‘well’
In a separate development, three top Muslim Brotherhood figures have been referred to court on charges of inciting violence.
Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie, his deputy Khairat al-Shater and senior leader Rashad Bayoum face trial over allegations of inciting the killing of protesters outside of their headquarters last month.
An African Union delegation confirmed on Wednesday that it had met Mr Morsi, who has not been seen in public since being ousted.
He had received no official visitors until Tuesday, when he met EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton who said he was “well".
The ousted leader has been formally remanded in custody at an undisclosed location, according to a judicial order.
He has been accused of the “premeditated murder of some prisoners, officers and soldiers" when he and several Muslim Brotherhood leaders were freed during a breakout at a Cairo prison in January 2011.
He is alleged to have plotted attacks on jails in the uprising that overthrew President Hosni Mubarak.
Mr Morsi is also accused of conspiring with the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip and has strong links with the Muslim Brotherhood.
He was overthrown by the military after mass rallies in which millions of Egyptians calling for his removal took to the streets.
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