President Barack Obama today responded to the violent crackdown in Egypt by cancelling a scheduled joint military exercise. But the gesture is unlikely to appease those calling for a more robust U.S. response, including the cancellation of U.S. assistance.
“If I’m an Egyptian general, I take notice and think President Obama is trying to take the least painful step to demonstrate to various constituencies in the US that he means what he says about democracy in Egypt,” said Amy Hawthorne, a former Egypt expert at the State Department, “but only the least painful step, so we won’t take him that seriously.”
“The fact that [Obama] has taken an assertive step forward is welcome,” said Tarek Radwan, an analyst at the influential Atlantic Council, “it’s just simply not enough.”
But the administration’s move drew a swift rebuke from a veteran Egyptian democracy advocate.
“Dear President Obama, News is that you are cancelling our biannual joint military exercise aka Bright Star,” publisher and analyst Hisham Kassem (above) wrote on Facebook.
“Well done, now Egyptians will feel that their army, the only entity they trust at present, is being penalized for siding with them against the failed incompetent Brotherhood regime they revolted against. The likely result is that they will drift closer round it, increasing the influence of the military in political life.”
The Islamist group’s leaders sought to destroy the country and dispersing the sit-ins exposed the group’s threat, said Kassem.
The Obama administration is striving for a balanced approach, Laura Rozen writes for Al-Monitor’s Back Channel.
“Without in any way leaving the impression that I think the bloodshed [is excused], this has been about the least surprising outcome,” former US Ambassador to Egypt Frank Wisner told her.
“These negotiations were not going to go anywhere, because [the Muslim] Brothers had a view about what they were trying to accomplish,” he said.
“The Brothers thought they could defy the odds, and … drive a wedge between the international community and the government, and in that sense they have hardly succeeded,” Wisner said. “Second, they thought they could drive a wedge between” the Egyptian people and the military-led government. While they haven’t yet succeeded, he said, “I can’t argue that they won’t eventually have some success.”
Wisner cautioned Washington against overreacting, stressing U.S. statements need to strike a balance, to keep ties with Cairo from further fraying and in order to maintain leverage to try to urge the political transition back on track.
“Egypt is a country that is very important to the United States, and it’s important to maintain a relationship with that country and those responsible for its future,” Wisner said. “At the same time, we look to those people to act with good judgment and restraint, and we deeply regret the loss of life and violence.”
“And we look to our friends to move on, to bind up the wounds, to get back into the political process and sort differences out in the ballot box and constitutional conventions and not at the barricades in downtown Cairo,” he said. “It’s just at a moment like this, one has got to recognize the limitations.”
“The violent deaths of hundreds and the injury of thousands of peaceful pro-democracy protesters in a few short hours yesterday are tragic. What is the more tragic is that it could have been avoided,” says a prominent analyst.
“The overall performance of the Muslim Brothers over the past year shows they have not been the best democrats or statesmen. Yet the Muslim Brothers were certainly not worse than some segments of the military-backed ‘liberal’ opposition who are no more inclusive or experienced,” writes University of Cairo professor Emad Shahin (right):
This is the nature of authoritarian regimes that usually deprive their opponents of any power sharing opportunities. In democracies, you punish failure at the ballot box, not by a military coup and depriving the majority of their right to rule.
Egyptians are clearly divided over serious political issues: identity, ideological orientations, distribution of power, models of development and foreign policy. These should be resolved through dialogue and compromise. The coup’s leaders have sided with a certain party, thus deepening the division and polarization.
“Fortunately, there is still a window for a legitimate exit to this crisis,” Shahin argues:
The solution to the crisis needs to emerge from a constitutional legality and not from the reality of an illegitimate coup. The 2012 Constitution, which received the support of almost two-thirds of a majority of Egyptian voters, can provide a framework for a legitimate and peaceful resolution. Whether we like it or not, Mohammed Morsi is still legally the president of Egypt, and he is the key to any legitimate transfer of power. The 2012 Constitution allows the president to delegate his powers to a prime minister that can call for immediate parliamentary elections, followed by presidential elections.
“The best way forward is to defend the democratic process against the coup. The military junta has failed so far to consolidate its coup,” he writes. “They need to exit the scene and withdraw from the political process.” RTWT
But other observers believe the Islamists’ ideological fervor and political dogmatism preclude any negotiated settlement.
“The Muslim Brotherhood has reached a point where it sees this as the last battle — so, it’s either win it or die as a ‘martyr,’…victory or death,” Egyptian analyst Wael Nawara wrote for Al-Monitor today.