As Egypt Burns
By Aijaz Zaka Syed
August 21, 2013
Egypt has come to expose the lie and ludicrousness of exalted ideas like the international community and the civilised world. The world watches while the country celebrated as the mother of civilisations burns with everything that we all swear by going up in smoke in the streets of Egypt. Words like democracy, justice and rule of law prove themselves for what they are – mere words. The world has failed the people of Egypt.
Peter Beinart, a commentator for the ‘Daily Beast’ and once a passionate supporter of President Barack Obama, has described Egypt as the Obama administration’s ‘biggest foreign policy disaster.’
In an appearance on ‘Fareed Zakaria GPS’ on CNN, he said: “Our moment of maximum leverage was right when that coup happened, when there was still a possibility that we could force their military to allow the Muslim Brotherhood to come back and still be a player. We didn't use it by saying we are going to stop aid. Now it turns out the military has been incredibly repressive, and the MB isn’t going away. What's going to happen is…the most radical elements of the MB will come to the fore with the prospect of a Syria-like Islamist insurgency.”
Even Bret Stephens of the ‘Wall Street Journal’, who batted against the Brotherhood and against US intervention in Egypt, agreed that the Generals wouldn’t be doing themselves or their allies any favors if protesters continue to be massacred in the streets.
More and more Americans are waking up to Washington’s splendid isolation as old ally Egypt unravels. Jacob Heilbrunn, writing in “The National Interest” is even more scathing describing Obama’s address from Martha’s Vineyard as a licence to kill: “What Obama's foreign policy amounts to is abdication, a passive surrender to events. Egypt isn’t Syria. America has long been directly, intimately engaged in its affairs. But Obama is acting as though he's an innocent bystander, wringing his hands over the terrible things he's witnessing.”
Conservative pundit Patrick J Buchanan agrees: “Two years ago, the US celebrated an Arab spring that began with the overthrow of dictators who had been our loyal allies. We became the champions of free elections in Egypt. When half of Egypt voted for the Brotherhood, we pledged to work with Morsi. When millions massed in Cairo’s streets to demand Morsi’s overthrow, we signalled our approval for a military coup. John Kerry provided the comic relief by assuring us that the Egyptian army was restoring democracy.”
Buchanan believes the army has crossed the Rubicon with the unprecedented Ramses Square crackdown last week and all that since has followed leaving behind piles of bodies everywhere. There’s no going back now. Gruesome videos appearing on YouTube make you sick to your stomach. This Eid has been special for Egypt –something it will never forget.
Yet Buchanan counsels the US against taking sides. “Egypt has problems we cannot solve,” he reasons. But Washington is already involved in Egypt – up to its neck. It has always been.
Do you think the generals would have pulled the plug without the blessings of their biggest patron? The $1.5 billion US aid helps the Egyptian military and US arms manufacturers whose exports are heavily subsidised by Washington. Which explains Obama’s coyness to call the coup a coup as US law would then require an automatic end to aid. The president however assures us his national security team is studying the “complex situation.”
Equally predictable has been the pusillanimous response of the European cousins and allies across the Atlantic – from Britain to France to Germany. The strongest action so far has been a call to convene a European Union meeting to ‘discuss the situation in Egypt.”
Tony Blair, that great champ of freedom and democracy and leading light of the Coalition of the Willing now suggests that “democratic government doesn’t on its own mean effective government.” Wonks like David Brooks agree, arguing that Egyptians lack the “basic mental ingredients for democracy.” So they deserve the men in khaki and their shock and awe.
But what’s new? Haven’t we been here before? Western doublespeak on democracy, freedom and human rights is as old as these ideals themselves. And it’s not just western powers; the silence of the rest of the world, from Russia to China to India – the former superpower and emerging powers – is equally revealing, just as it has been over Syria. And the less said about the United Nations and its fine institutions the better.
The enigmatic silence of the assorted liberals, rights groups and activists around the world is even more fascinating. The strongest response that Amnesty International could come up following the Ramses Square was the gratuitous protestation that “killings were excessive.”
As Brendan O’Neill, editor of Spiked points out in an incisive piece, there are many striking things about the political situation in Egypt. But perhaps the most striking thing is the silence of those who pose as human-rights cheerleaders, of the west’s head-shakers over tyranny in far-off lands, who have gone strangely mute in the face of the military’s seizure of power.
At a time when just about everyone is either fibbing or suffers from an ‘Egypt fatigue,’ O’Neill chooses to be blunt, forcing the west to see a reality that it rather wouldn’t: “What lies bleeding in Cairo, Alexandria and elsewhere in Egypt is not just the supporters of Morsi, but also the democratic pretensions of those westerners who sing from the hymn of human rights. Their high-minded posturing about authoritarianism in distant lands has been exposed as extraordinarily shallow, contingent, a sham!”
Honesty this brutal is rare these days and is found only in alternative media. But why blame the west and western liberals when the Arab-Muslim world has been so pathetic in its response to the tragedy unfolding in Egypt? Where’s the Arab League and what has the blessed OIC done so far to resolve the conflict and heal the wounds in Egypt?
Of course, the Arab world is hopelessly divided over the issue. The ascent of the Muslim Brotherhood is a genuine cause of concern for many in the region. The Islamists are viewed with great suspicion and their rise in Tunisia, Libya and Morocco hasn’t helped.
That doesn’t however mean that the Arabs and Muslims can stand and stare while Egypt goes up in flames. Isn’t it time some of them came forward to put out the blaze? What’s the point at which the Arab and Muslim leadership would decide enough is enough and step in to cool the passions on both sides? Why are those raging against carnage in distant lands like Myanmar silent over Egypt? How much more bloodshed are they prepared to tolerate before they act? Isn’t it enough already?
Someone needs to tell the generals that you cannot kill your way to power. If it were that simple, Saddam, Qaddafi and others would still be around. Why, even Mubarak would still be in power. It’s time for everyone to step back from the brink – and this applies to the Brotherhood as well. They have registered their rightful protest against the unseating of Egypt’s first elected president and made their point.
It’s time for the Brotherhood to stand down to avoid more wanton bloodshed and loss of innocent lives. They should go back to the people and make their point by way of the ballot box – if and when that happens. They have waited for decades for their turn. They can wait some more, in the interest of peace and stability of the nation and the region.
There’s too much at stake in Egypt, the region’s most populous country. If it collapses, it’s not just its 84 million people who would pay the price. The whole region and the world would.
Aijaz Zaka Syed is a commentator on Middle East and South Asian affairs.