Viewpoints: Is the West powerless in Egypt?

Composite photo: Barack Obama, Catherine Ashton, William Hague, Egyptian pro-Morsi protestors

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Supporters of ousted Egyptian President Morsi have taken to the streets again on Friday, even though a state of emergency remains in force.

The protests are taking place two days after Muslim Brotherhood camps were broken up by security forces, leaving at least 638 dead.

In the wake of Wednesday's violence, police have been authorised to use live ammunition in self-defence.

President Mohamed Morsi was ousted 3 July by the Egyptian military, in what the US and other nations have avoided labelling a "coup".

The US cancelled joint exercises with Egypt's military on Thursday but stopped short of suspending aid to Cairo.

Below, a panel discuss the role of the West in Egypt and whether they are powerless to stop the escalating crisis.

Dr Katerina Dalacoura, lecturer at the London School of Economics

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Katerina Dalacoura

There is not much the West can do”

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I would argue that the West - which includes the US and the European Union - is powerless in Egypt.

Even if the US were prepared to withdraw military aid from Egypt, which would affect the Egyptian army in the long term, the crisis is so profound at present that considering this eventual cost would not affect the immediate calculations of the Egyptian government. The EU has even more limited means of imposing a particular policy on Egypt.

It has been clear for a few weeks now that the new Egyptian regime has decided in favour of a heavy-handed policy against the Islamists and the supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood in particular.

This is either because the Egyptian army knows no other manner of operating, or because there is a calculation that, despite the loss of life, violent repression will be more effective in silencing opposition and the possibility of long-term Islamist reaction can be forestalled.

Dr Katerina Dalacoura

  • Author of Engagement or Coercion?: Weighing Western Human Rights Policies Towards Turkey, Iran and Egypt
  • Senior lecturer in international relations at LSE

The widespread condemnation of recent events is crucial in reminding the Egyptian government that the world is watching.

This moral indignation may appear hypocritical on the part of the US government but we must remember that it does not rest only on the abhorrence at the loss of life but also on the belief that Islamists must be included in the political process, which has had many supporters in Washington for quite a while.

Whatever happens behind the scenes between governments, upholding universal standards at least on a rhetorical level is important in itself - but beyond this there is not much the West can do.

Mona Al-Qazzaz, spokesperson for the Muslim Brotherhood

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Mona Al-Qazzaz

The West decided to turn a blind eye to the millions of Egyptians who have taken to the streets”

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As an Egyptian, [I think] we should be able to sort our problems internally. The priority should be for internal resolution. As Egyptians, we need to have a democratic platform to sort out our problems.

But the military stepped in and hijacked power. They created this imbalance in the political scene and then there have been violations of human rights, one after the other.

But there's silence from the international community and very weak condemnation, which is not what we expected.

The African Union, as soon as the coup was orchestrated, upheld its democratic principles - whereas the West hesitated in denouncing a coup.

You know a tree from its fruit and you know a coup from its massacres.

The international community stood together against crimes against humanity in different countries. What we've seen in Egypt, it's not about the Muslim Brotherhood anymore, it's about humanity. Humanity is being violated. And the international community is even failing to clearly condemn what's happening.

[They should be] condemning the violence, stopping the massacres, and blaming the murderers for the killing. They need to hold the criminals accountable through transparent, independent investigations.

Mona Al-Qazzaz

  • UK spokesperson for Muslim Brotherhood
  • Came to the UK to study for PhD at Cambridge

We've seen the massacres running for hours, and the world stood silent.

We had some weak, faint voices the next day. But it's not the first one - we've had at least five major massacres in Egypt since [the military takeover].

We ask the international community not to deal with this government. They should only be dealing with the legitimate democratic body.

The EU envoy has been trying to broker a solution between the military junta and the coalition of legitimacy in Egypt, and we appreciate [attempts] to broker a solution.

But the West is very selective. It is biased towards one side more than the other. The West decided to turn a blind eye to the millions of Egyptians who have taken to the streets. They should be impartial and uphold their democratic values.

David Butter, associate fellow at Chatham House

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David Butter

Egypt's new military rulers plainly calculated that the West lacks the resolve to put real pressure on them”

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The West's response to the Egyptian political crisis has been described by Gideon Rachman, a columnist with the Financial Times, as "confused spluttering".

Harsh, but a fair reflection of the difficulty that governments in the US and Europe have had in dealing with a complex and fast-moving situation. Behind the scenes, US and European diplomats and politicians have worked hard to prevent the escalation of violence that resulted from the decision to send troops and armed police into the Muslim Brotherhood protest camps on 14 August.

Their efforts were in vain, as Egypt's new military rulers plainly calculated that the West lacks the resolve to put real pressure on them, as witnessed by the weakness of the reaction to the removal of Mohammed Morsi as president and to two previous instances of mass killings of protesters, on 8 July and 27 July.

Why doesn't the US simply cut off military aid? The $1.3bn (£831m) in military sales grants is tied to multi-year procurements from American arms manufacturers, which wield influence on Capitol Hill.

David Butter

  • Former editor of Middle East Digest and regular contributor to Economist Intelligence Unit
  • Associate fellow in the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House

Israel, on balance, prefers to work with a US-supplied Egyptian military in combating the security threats it faces from Sinai. Saudi Arabia is a much bigger customer for US arms, and was aghast when the US allowed Hosni Mubarak to fall and the Muslim Brotherhood to come to power.

Europe could declare an arms embargo and suspend economic aid, but European companies would lose business, and the EU has no interest in taking steps that create more economic misery on its southern doorstep.

These factors do not preclude the US and the EU taking such steps, but they give the politicians pause.

The West can keep on trying to persuade Egypt's rulers that political accommodation is in all Egyptians' best interest. If that is derided as ineffective hand-wringing, there are not many other feasible options.

Spokesperson for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)

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Our efforts, with those of others in the international community, have helped create opportunities for compromise”

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The UK has been involved in intensive diplomatic efforts over the last month, directed at reaching a peaceful resolution to the standoff. We have talked extensively to all sides. [Foreign Office Minister Alastair] Burt visited Egypt on 24 July and spoke to the interim government and the Muslim Brotherhood.

[Defence Secretary Philip] Hammond also spoke to General el-Sisi on 13 August to urge restraint in any actions to clear protesters. Our efforts, with those of others in the international community, have helped create opportunities for compromise.

Yesterday we called in the Egyptian ambassador to express our deep concern at the escalating violence and unrest in Egypt.

Simon Gass, the FCO political director, condemned the use of force to clear the protests and urged the Egyptian authorities to act with the greatest restraint. Our ambassador in Cairo has also delivered these messages to Egyptian minister of interior and assistant defence secretary.

The goal remains a democratic and inclusive Egypt that can make strong steps towards economic recovery.

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All support and bilateral relations are already under review”

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We have also revoked a number of export licence agreements. These licences were judged at the time of issue to be consistent with stringent internationally recognised criteria. However, in light of the recent situation in Egypt, eight licences have been revoked as we assess that they are now inconsistent with the criteria - specifically, [we have] concerns about the potential for exports to be used for internal repression.

The majority of UK support to Egypt is channelled through multilateral agencies to support the Egyptian people. All support and bilateral relations are already under review.

This is a difficult and changing situation and we remain extremely concerned. We have talked extensively to all sides. The EU, US, Qatar and United Arab Emirates mediation team exerted significant effort in trying to broker a compromise. It is disappointing that a compromise has not been reached but it is important that all sides renew their efforts.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    The problem, as always, are the shadowy figures standing in the background, stirring up all kinds of protests in the sure knowledge that deaths will occur (but, significantly, not their own). Thus the despair, destruction of people, families, and goodwill will be fueled by the hatred that is begun by this murder. When it is done in the name of the religion of peace, hypocrisy triumphs. Terrible.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Democracy is more about Co-Operation for Peaceful Co-Existence than Protesting, and without the "Struggle" is not appreciated.
    My other contention is that Mid-East 'Culture' seem to demand a strong-man. Everywhere their strong-man was deposed is in shambles where Law & Order prevailed before. Sadam Hussein had Iraq as most Literate, Kadhafi had Libya on Human Development Index, now look at them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    West sacrificed Diplomatic Art to Political Ego-stroking, and are out of easy Military options. Brotherhood had their shot and squandered it on 'All or Nothing'. Whatever the excuse for Coup, it exposed Muslim Brotherhood intent to conquer. Even protestor-friendly video cannot avoid them shooting at Troops & wanton vandalism. Is there any way for 'Day of Rage' to imply anything but Violence?

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Starting in Greece, it has taken the Occident well over three thousand years to get to the place it is now: a still-struggling, often dysfunctional but reasonably secure environment of secular self-governance; with varying degrees of personal freedom throughout. After almost six thousand years, this is Egypt's first real attempt at self-governance and democracy. I wish them well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    West problem was defined by Obama's spokesperson:- "It is not in US Interests to describe what happened in Egypt as a Coup". Egyptian "Interests" is way down the Western priority list. Fact is Muslim Brotherhood was courted and cultivated by US no less than Taliban. Experts attest Saudis & UAE destroyed US $1.8 Billion Military influence with around $12 Billion of their own.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Is the West powerless in Egypt?

    Of course not. There are plenty of things the West could do if it was truly interested in restoring democracy & bringing the massacres to an end. Full sanctions. Freezing of Egyptian assets. Travel bans. And the most powerful of all, making it abundantly clear to the generals that a trial before the ICC awaits them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Whilst the islamic world put religeon before politics they will continue to go through upheavels like in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq etc. The West is not in a position to interfere. Let them sort it themselves and eventually the people, the military and even the islamic militants will stop the killing. However there will be a lot more deaths before that happens.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    I wonder how much longer is going to take us on this planet Earth, when we finally will be able to send all the religions, where they all belong. Back into their churches! Religious fanatics be it any faction Christian, Moslem, Buddhist and so and on the list goes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    I'm a Muslim Egypqtian and I back our army and police forces in their fight against Terrorism

    Not only Christians , but millions of true Muslims are against the Muslim Brotherhood and their terrorism and facshicm

    Very disappointed for the western media and leaders in not showing the true events and the terror the Morsy supporters have shown towards millions of moderate Egyptians

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Like the Troubles in Northern Ireland or the Civil War in Lebanon, to name two recent examples, the violence will only end when the warring parties have shed enough of their own blood. If Syria is any indication, there will be tens to hundreds of thousands of dead on all sides before some sort of fragile compromise becomes the solution. Foreign intervention doesn't build states - ask Iraq.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.


    How, in your world, and apparently in the wierd world of Sen John McCain, is the Egyptian army at fault?

    They saw Morsi the MB focused on strengthening their grip on power - way beyond the Democratic mandate they secured at the election.

    Do you condemn the murder of Christians, Jews, Copts & Secularists in Egypt by MB zealots?

    Was their Right to Life protected by Morsi?

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.


    In the west, we've largely agreed to the separation of Religion & the State.

    Islam generally promotes an opposing view - that the State should be subservient to Religion and Sharia Law should prevail.

    Many Muslims desire a global Caliphate.

    Thus, the west is watching the battle for Egypt to see who will win.

    We gain no benefit from intervening. We want to see who prevails

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    7.Andrei Dascalu

    Adolf Hitler was democratically elected by the German people. He was insane.

    Morsi was not acting on behalf of all Egyptians - only the Muslim ones.

    The MB leaders were inciting riots & disobedience. They were also murdering Copts and Secularists.

    Egypt its simply playing out the Religious war EVERYONE has been predicting. Religious Zealots versus Secularists.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Where there is religion there will always be conflict.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    I wonder why the BBC almost doesn't report about the Coptic/Christian community that is attacked on a daily basis by the same 'pacific' Pro Morsi suporters. Isn't the Coptic community Egyptian also?

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    From my perspective both a functional interim cabinet and an effective constitutional committee must include participation of the MB and their allies, which in turn means refraining from any politically-motivated crackdown. More in "Morsi Out, Military In, Can Democracy Slip Too In Egypt"-

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    1. the military coup destroyed any chance for a credible democracy
    2. the military imprisoned MB leaders for no reason
    3. even moderate leader El Baradei resigned in protest
    4. the MB is fighting back and that shouldn't surprise anyone

    democracy isn't failing just in Egypt, but the failure in Egypt is turning into genocide.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    You report as if this issue occupies people in England's thoughts. No-one I know is talking about this. Nobody, apart from a few journalists cares. The Middle East is falling apart. So what?

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    And when can we expect to hear from the Moslem Sisterhood ?
    Islam does not deserve to have power whilst it denigrates and abuses women

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Why the West is powerless in Egypt? What will be the response of the west, if it was Morsi committing these atrocities in the name of peace, stability and progress?


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