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
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    Comment number 43.

    If "cairo36" is legit, then he/she provides an interesting perspective on the situation. I would like to see more posts from people within Egypt and the region; those with first-hand knowledge. Although I realize every individual has some type of bias, so does the press. Too often, when I've had personal experience with an event, the description by the press doesn't match my own experience.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 42.

    Israel Security & preferential access to Suez is about 'it' for Western interest in Egypt. Reality is Mid East would chug along with usual spats if it weren't for our meddling which always result in Mayhem. Just in past decade or so, How better off are Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Congo or Syria from Military intervention, or rest of Mid East from Meddling? Not a single Success as we plan for more.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 41.

    Intervention never seems to work. The world looks condemned to a future where each and every nation learns its lessons "the hard way". I fear for the future of the Middle East in general, at some point, probably when oil money slows, as franking takes off the tribal political uprisings will affect nations like Saudi and the who region will become a situation like huge tragic mess.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 40.

    Those braying Aid should inquire about Details, most Aid must be spent in Donor Country and is devoured by jet-setting Political Consultants. I'm also dismayed how many casually believe we have the right to Decide by Force how others live. Europe & US only ever act in their own Self Interest regardless of how many die. Egyptians are expendable to Israeli Security with Democracy a minor detail.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 39.

    Although the calls for a prompt intervention by the West are completely understandable, it is not difficult to read behind the lines that they will not occur. The West is sorely uncertain as to how big a threat the MB pose and - sorry to say this - may quite benefit by destabilizing yet another to-become theocratic country in the region.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 38.

    Let them sort it out for themselves and stop giving them aid. Religion and politics do not mix.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 37.

    The U.S. needs to be clearer with its message.

    It's not just democracy for which we advocate. Rather, it's democracy with guaranteed rights for the minority.

    It is, after all, the Bill of Rights that sets us apart.

    Without these guaranteed rights, the minority is subject to the tyranny of the majority.

    The Arab world must figure this out on its own. We can't implement it from abroad.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 36.

    Obama is/was/will be in campaign mode, resetting and recaliberating all the time. That will go on for the next 3 years.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 35.

    Many Egyptians are very annoyed at the one sided story being put forward by the international press, including the BBC. Especially the violence that which is being carried out by many protesters ie; shootings, church burnings & terrorist attacks. Fateh Mosque is now empty, & there is more shooting from the minarets & from outside. Be sure, propagandists on both sides will be very busy next week!

  • rate this
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    Comment number 34.

    The West especially Obama's government bumbled on every level regarding the Egyptian crisis from day one, even as far back as Mubarak's ousting. They were dithery, doddery & drunk (literally) on every statement they put out. & were playing catch-up all the time. EU & Britain weren't much better. Egypt is now on a very wayward path to becoming a clone of Syria, for whom the West also bumbled with.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 33.

    I was in Cairo in Feb 2011 just after they removed Mubarak and the euphoria was as if they had just won the world cup .The air was electric, but our guide said we have to be careful of the MBs as they were waiting for this day and could destroy us. Exactly what happened.

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    Comment number 32.

    @30 - "is it truly worth your life?"
    If each one of us took the position that "democracy is not worth MY life" then Hitler would have remained in power.

    That said, the MB is not fighting for democracy - which involves the fundamental protection of minorities' rights - they're fighting for theocracy = intolerance. That's why Morsi could not remain and why the West won't intervene.

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    Comment number 31.

    You're right Siren Song- Morsi is tucked up safe while his supporters are getting killed in a futile attempt for him to once more have power over a people who don't want him.As for Ms. Qazzar I'd like to ask her response to the MB supporters burning of churches-18+todate/brutal killing of innocent christians&looting and burning of their property.Could we accuse her of 'turning a blind eye' to that

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 30.

    Some pple take "democracy" and their right to vote seriously but is it truly worth your life? To stand in front of the army when you know their intent, waste your life for a politician who only has his agenda and counts upon your blind loyalty to give him power is insane. History shows no politician is truly clean, dubious at best in that case are they still worth dying for? They wont thank you.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 29.

    Millions and millions of Egyptians(Moslems &Christians) that took to the streets to protest against a fundamentalist Islamic government that betrayed every promise it made.Credit to them.The camps are being portrayed as hippie communes-all love&flower-power.They were not!They were no-go areas.Full of armed,violent thugs.People were terrified of them I should know-I live close by!

  • rate this
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    Comment number 28.

    I certainly hope we don't get involved militarily. While I'm against the military overthrowing a civilian government, I'm also against the MB overthrowing democracy, which is what they were effectively engaged in. It's like 52% of the population democratically electing Communists, which then act as if they have a mandate to eliminate elections. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 27.

    Armed Forces crack down on MB, the Coup d’Etat is meant to manipulate protest movement & STOP accession of people’s government”. The overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi by the Egyptian Armed forces was not carried out against US interests, but such was instigated to ensure continuity on behalf of The United States of America.
    Is it a wonder so many Egyptians are anti-American?

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 26.

    Freedom of Information Act & public records reveal US “democracy assistance” may have violated Egyptian law, which prohibits foreign political funding, also may have broken US govt regulations banning use of taxpayers’ money to fund foreign politicians or finance subversive activities targeting DEMOCRATICALLY-ELECTED GOVTS.
    Where is the fist-shaking at potentially illegal funding?

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 25.

    DEMOCRACY assistance program for ME is filtered through agencies inside US State Department. Hundreds of millions of TAXPAYER dollars flows through: Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights & Labor (DRL), ME East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), USAID, as well as quasi govt -the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Federal docs indicate funds have been sent - mostly to members of anti-Morsi parties.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 24.

    Catherine Ashton? 90m EU money to Morsi gvmt? UK government; how concerned are we..quite no no deeply harummphh haruumph. More to come unfortunately and the 'West' think they are safe? Remember the 1m deaths between Hutu and Tutsi's? The 'West' will only act for political gain and the situation in Egypt suits their present policies, smokescreens always help rubbish leaders.

 

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