Egyptian security forces today stormed the camps where Muslim Brotherhood supporters of deposed President Mohamed Morsi have protested his ouster. Dozens have been killed and hundreds wounded in the dispersal and subsequent violence.
“This is the beginning of a systematic crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, other Islamists and other opponents of a military coup,” said Emad Shahin, a professor of political science at the American University on Cairo. “It is an attempt to begin a new phase of a police state under military control behind a civilian facade — this is what they are trying to do,” he told the New York Times:
As for the American threats to cut off aid or block international loans, Professor Shahin said, no Egyptians — generals, liberals, Islamists or scholars — ever took them seriously. “In the end, the West will back the winning side,” he said. “That is how dictators think, and to a certain extent it is true.”
Egypt’s army-backed interim prime minister defended the government’s action, saying the authorities had no choice, Reuters reports:
In a televised statement Beblawi said the decision to break up the protests “was not easy” and came only after the government had given mediation efforts a chance. He said a state of emergency announced earlier in the day would be for the shortest period possible, adding that the government was committed to an army-backed road map to restore democracy.
“We found that matters had reached a point that no self respecting state could accept,” Hazem el-Beblawi said, citing “the spread of anarchy and attacks on hospitals and police stations”. “God willing, we will continue. We will build our democratic, civilian state,” he said.
Egypt is moving “further and further from a democratic process and closer to an officers’ republic, a state dominated by armed institutions,” said Omar Ashour, a senior lecturer in Middle East politics at the University of Exeter in the U.K. “It’s going to be a very bloody phase in the coming weeks.”
“Sadly, none of this was inevitable and parties could have avoided bloodshed had reconciliation been the priority,” says Tarek Radwan, the associate director for research at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center:
The Muslim Brotherhood publicly rejected all overtures by any group to rejoin the political process if the interim government refused their core demands….maintaining a maximalist position …
The Egyptian Military led by General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi expressed obvious contempt for what he viewed as US interference in Egyptian developments that armchair intellectuals and diplomats could not possibly comprehend. As a strategist, he may think he can manage the fallout from such tactics both domestically and internationally, relying on huge segments of Egyptian society who will applaud his patience, restraint, and leadership during a difficult time.
The Egyptian Police have struggled with a lack of respect since the fall of Hosni Mubarak in 2011. …Any backlash from the Muslim Brotherhood will now require a heavy-handed response that will stifle political dissent not only from Islamists but also political activists who fought and died for a pluralistic system.
Egyptian Liberals who once fought Morsi’s policies for the sake of a more democratic system have too easily subscribed to a highly undemocratic development. After this raid, those who truly believe in the principles of democracy and free expression will have no choice but to resign from the interim government, further reducing its credibility in the eyes of some Egyptians and leaving it largely in the hands of those willing to sacrifice these principles in the interest of stability and national security.
“If this picture sounds familiar, it is,” Radwan concludes. “A Muslim Brotherhood driven underground, a leading military figure, an assertive police force, and submissive liberal bloc is perhaps the most apt description of pre-2011 Egypt. It might be too early to characterize the revolution as dead, but none can deny that any notion of democratic development will be placed in deep freeze for the foreseeable future.”
Secretary of State John Kerry said that “The United States strongly condemns today’s violence and bloodshed across Egypt,” and added that “Today’s events are deplorable and they run counter to Egyptian aspirations for peace, inclusion, and genuine democracy. Egyptians inside and outside of the government need to take a step back. They need to calm the situation and avoid further loss of life.”
The Egyptian Presidency declared a state of emergency that will last for one month citing (Arabic) vandalism, attacks on public and private facilities, and the deaths of civilians. The government has also issued a nighttime curfew for Cairo and ten other provinces across Egypt. Additionally, as a result of unfolding events Mohamed el-Baradei has resigned (Arabic) from his position as Egypt’s interim vice president, protesting the violent crackdown.
The world has also begun to react to the day’s events in Egypt. The White House issued a statement saying, “The United States strongly condemns the use of violence against protesters in Egypt… We have repeatedly called on the Egyptian military and security forces to show restraint, and for the government to respect the universal rights of its citizens, just as we have urged protesters to demonstrate peacefully. Violence will only make it more difficult to move Egypt forward on a path to lasting stability and democracy, and runs directly counter to the pledges by the interim government to pursue reconciliation. We also strongly oppose a return to a State of Emergency law.”
Catherine Ashton, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, deplored the use of violence and said, “Confrontation and violence is not the way forward to resolve key political issues.” She urged dialogue and restraint. … Emma Bonino, Italy’s Foreign Minister, said she had hoped that the sit-ins would end through dialogue and not ”not with the intervention of police forces, which doesn’t help the search for a solution to the political crisis.” She urged all sides to do what is necessary to “avoid a bloodbath.”
POMED is a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.