Security forces killed almost 640 people in Cairo on Wednesday as they clashed with protesters who had been camped in Tahrir Square for the past six weeks in defiance of the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi on July 3. Egypt’s capital is under military lockdown after authorities declared a state of emergency amid reports of unrest and deaths throughout the country.
International condemnation of the violence has been widespread if muted with European officials calling for the European Union to suspend aid to Egypt. With the death toll rising on Friday as the Muslim Brotherhood sought to rally its forces and supporters joined in a “Day of Rage” march in Cairo amid gunfire, the United States is still vacillating about suspending the annual $1.3 billion in military aid it gives to Egypt.
On Thursday, President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. will not hold joint military exercises with Egypt that were to take place in the upcoming months. Saying that, after Morsi’s ouster, authorities in Egypt have taken “a more dangerous path taken through arbitrary arrests,” Obama stated that “our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets and rights are being rolled back.”
Authorities in Cairo countered that Obama’s statements were not based on “facts” and that he did not grasp that “terrorist acts” were being committed in Egypt.
United States Needs to Act Now and Reexamine Its Aid to Egypt
Obama also commented that “we recognize that change takes time. …We know that democratic transitions are measured not in months or even years, but sometimes in generations.” His response has disappointed many wanting the United States to take a far harsher stance toward Egypt. Senator John McCain in particular has called for aid to Egypt to end, saying that “the law is very clear that if there is a coup that aid is cut off and we decided not to do that.”
Fear of losing leverage with the generals now running Egypt has made the White House’s intervention so limited, ”cosmetic” and (from the perspective of Egypt’s authorities) the least painful possible. As Amy Hawthorne, who until recently was an Egypt policy official at the State Department, says,
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, but only the least painful step, so we won’t take him that seriously.
The United States has yet to use the word “coup” to describe the removal of Egypt’s democratically elected president, writes Heather Hurlbert in the Guardian. But with so many apparently unarmed civilians killed by security forces, the time is past to debate about whether or not Morsi’s ouster was a coup and the generals now running Egypt need to be sanctioned.
What the United States needs at least to do, says Hurlbert, is to make it clear that it is conducting a thorough review of its aid to Egypt, to have a very clear idea of “what levels and types of aid serve U.S. national security interests and of what aid harms them, either by empowering the violations of human rights or by extending the perception that the US condones the abuses.”
For instance, under the Leahy Law, U.S. support to military units that violate human rights with impunity must be banned. According to this, any Egyptian forces that had a part in this past week’s violence would be ineligible for U.S. military aid and training.
What’s clear is that the United States must abandon its reluctance to take decisive steps about its policy toward Egypt as the military — the current authorities in the country — continue an increasingly bloody crackdown.
Photo via Darla دارلا Hueske/Flickr