Quotes of the day

Supporters of Egypt’s deposed president will stage a “Friday of martyrs” of mass protests, risking more potential bloodshed to show they can still claim the streets after a week in which hundreds were gunned down and their leaders jailed.

Egyptians are enduring the bloodiest civil unrest of their modern history after the military overthrew Mohamed Mursi on July 3 following demonstrations against his rule.

In a symbolic victory for the army-dominated old order, former autocrat Hosni Mubarak – toppled in a 2011 pro-democracy uprising – was freed from jail on Thursday, while his freely elected successor Mursi remains imprisoned. …

In recent days, Brotherhood protests that once attracted tens of thousands of people at locations across the country have ebbed, suggesting the group’s famed organizational strength may have been damaged by the arrest of its leaders. Friday’s protests will be a test of its resilience.


EU member states have agreed to suspend export licences for any equipment that could be used for repression in Egypt, but humanitarian aid will continue.

The decision was announced by EU foreign policy chief Baroness Ashton after emergency talks in Brussels.

She said EU governments “feel very strongly that they want to continue to support vulnerable people in Egypt”. …

Arms are provided by individual countries rather than the EU as a whole, mostly by Germany, France and Spain. The UK has already suspended some of its military help.


The U.S. is poised to suspend another major weapons shipment to Egypt amid sharp divisions within the Obama administration over whether to cut off aid to the military-backed government. The debate mirrors similar disagreements over intervening in Syria, where there are new reports that chemical weapons have been used by the government.

Factions within the administration line up largely along two fronts: those who want the U.S. to take more decisive action to counter widespread violence in both Egypt and Syria, and senior military and some diplomatic leaders who are arguing for moderation.

The lack of a unified position — both within the administration and on Capitol Hill — is giving Obama time and space for his cautious approach. But it also poses a moral question: How far should the U.S. go to stop violence against civilians when its actions could drag America into the war in Syria or damage U.S. relations with Egypt — and undermine the Egypt-Israel peace accord.


But here’s one that might surprise you: Egyptians seem to increasingly believe that ousting Mubarak has not helped their country, and may have made things worse.

Here are a few key numbers from a May Pew report. It’s easy to imagine that these trends may have increased since then, given the surge in pro-military nationalism and the scale of the backlash against Morsi. And a Gallup poll, results from which are below, seemed to confirm as much.

1. In 2011, 77 percent of Egyptians said it was good that Mubarak had resigned.

2. In 2012, only 44 percent said Egypt was better off without Mubarak. This May, it was 39 percent.

3. Satisfaction with “where the country is going” is back around the same levels as in 2010; it was 28 percent in May of that year and 30 percent this May. It briefly spiked to 65 percent in 2011, after Mubarak’s ouster.


U.S. officials’ caution “reflects not only their sense that they have limited influence over the near-term decision-making of the Egyptian government, but also that they are still trying to discern what the trajectory will be in Egypt,” said Tamara Cofman Wittes, director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.

The risk of a backlash is clear for U.S. policymakers. Egypt could prohibit U.S. warplanes headed to Afghanistan or other hot spots from passing through its airspace, or slow American warships transiting the Suez Canal en route to the Persian Gulf. It could also derail U.S. efforts to have Egypt improve surveillance on its borders with Libya and Israel to stop arms smugglers and terrorists, changes that Gen. Abdel Fattah Sisi, the army chief, has pledged to make.

“There are plenty of costs to cutting off this aid, and it comes just at the time when, finally, after 30-some years, Gen. Sisi comes in and opens up discussions on these issues,” said Robert Springborg, an expert on the Egyptian military at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey. “From the American military perspective, this would be a tragedy.”


The editorial writers at the Wall Street Journal — also a savvy bunch — argue against going further and cutting aid to Egypt, saying that while doing so “would offer some moral satisfaction in the short run, it wouldn’t make General Sisi any more likely to allow a democratic transition.”

That seems to me to miss a key point: American law mandates that aid stop after a military coup. And despite the conspicuous head-scratching at the White House, a military coup is what has taken place in Egypt. There’s no serious question about that.

Would it not have been a useful object lesson had Obama said that — like every other American citizen — he is obliged to obey the law? If he thinks this a bad law — I would tend to agree — he could then work with Congress to repeal or fix it. That’s how democratic governance is supposed to function.


President Obama cannot control what happens in Damascus or Cairo, and it’s unfair to suggest otherwise. But he must also own the policies he creates and the messages those policies send. And here’s the truth: The president will run out the clock on the problems he likes least. In Egypt, while Washington fretted over the definition of a “coup,” the Gulf’s monarchies happily stepped in to fill the void. In Syria, the administration hemmed and hawed about arming the rebels for 18 months. When they finally came around to the notion, the “good rebels” were buried in shallow graves. As it turns out, there is a cost to slow walking a foreign policy crisis. …

Last Thursday, when President Obama addressed the Egyptian military’s assault on protesters, he spoke of the tension between America’s interests and values. Indeed, he frequently elevates those geopolitical interests over our values. It’s a welcome change after George W. Bush’s administration, which lacked the caution and circumspection the job requires, especially in the first term. But there is more to the job than simply summing up risks and rewards, and the Obama administration has been far too slow to understand how its interests play out in Egypt. Obama may be one of our foremost realpolitik presidents, but you get the sense that he’s just not very good at it.


As Egypt circles back toward the authoritarian tendencies of its past, the criticism of the international media is not surprising, but the role that the local press has played as an abettor in this is the more dispiriting phenomenon. In the final years of the Hosni Mubarak era, private television networks and newspapers had opened the door to critical coverage of the regime; their encouragement and reporting helped pave the way for the revolution. There was hope that with a toppled regime might also come a truly independent press, one of the few institutions that could steer the country as it tumbled through a tumultuous post-revolutionary era. But now, when the official state-run television channel puts a banner reading “Egypt Fighting Terrorism” in the corner of its screen (referring, of course, to the Brotherhood), the private networks do so as well. Over the weekend, the privately owned OnTV treated viewers to a highlight reel of the police clearing the Brotherhood sit-in, set gloriously to the soundtrack of “Rocky.” This was the only coverage of the event many of those watching would have seen; local newspapers and television stations give no information about the number of Brotherhood dead, and have never shown images of them. And when reports broke on Wednesday that the former dictator Hosni Mubarak might be imminently released from prison, the local media took hours to mention the news. In the interim, they covered the traffic.


Press freedom groups have warned that an “unprecedented” number of journalists are being targeted by Egyptian forces during the violent crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said it was “deeply disturbed” after several reporters for international media groups, including the Guardian, were assaulted or briefly detained in Cairo over the weekend. …

Sherif Mansour, the CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa orogramme co-ordinator, raised the alarm about the apparent crackdown on journalists in the politically-torn country. “The unprecedented number of killings and harassment of journalists in Egypt last week are ominous signs for the Egyptian press,” he said.

“A free press is fundamental to the restoration of democracy and to the inclusion of disparate voices in public discourse. Safeguarding press freedom, as promised by the Egyptian interim government, is a key step in that direction and direly needed right now.”


Since the demonstrations in Egypt in late June, I have been glued to Facebook. As an immigrant caught between homes, I selfishly hope for an Egypt I might be able to live in again one day, which is a flawed position to start with. The appeal of Facebook is that my friends—who come from different political views—share the news headlines and photos while annotating them with their opinions and experiences. (The news feed also comes entangled with pictures of dinner plates at Tom Douglas restaurants from my Seattle friends, together with posts about avant-garde American poetry and its factional disputes, all of which act as what can be described as postmodern flattening distraction.) Online, occasionally, I find myself playing interpreter between worldviews. When Mohamed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, was ousted by the army on July 3, many of my progressive friends, along with Egyptians who were educated in the West, were unable to see anything but a coup—which is not exactly how I saw it. After all, what about the 22 million people in the streets demanding his removal? For many Americans, it’s extremely hard to imagine that democracy is anything but election booths. But those 22 million people couldn’t wait for another election cycle, and isn’t it democratic to honor their will? At the very least, it can’t easily be dismissed as nondemocratic.

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