By Amir Darrag
August 16, 2013
FOR millions of Egyptians still reeling from the shock of Wednesday’s state-led massacre, which killed at least 600 peaceful protesters and possibly many more, the questions are now very basic: How do you reconcile with people who are prepared to kill you, and how do you stop them from killing again?
I represent an alliance of Egyptians who oppose the military coup that overthrew President Mohamed Morsi in July. Over the last two weeks, we have met with foreign diplomats, including Bernardino León, the European Union envoy, and William J. Burns, the American deputy secretary of state, who was invited by the coup’s leaders to mediate. We respectfully listened, honestly communicated our assessment of the situation and emphasized our desire to find a peaceful solution.
But those efforts were doomed by the bad faith of Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt’s military ruler. It was he, not the alliance, who rejected the mediators’ proposals.
The mediation efforts have been problematic. Diplomats and journalists continue to speak about negotiating only with the Muslim Brotherhood, even though the protesters come from all over the political spectrum; 69 percent of the country opposed the coup, one Egyptian poll showed.
Worse, shocking and irresponsible rhetoric from the State Department in Washington and from other Western diplomats — calling on the Brotherhood and demonstrators to “renounce” or “avoid” violence (even when also condemning the state’s violence) — has given the junta cover to perpetrate heinous crimes in the name of “confronting” violence. The protest sites have been teeming with foreign correspondents for the last several weeks, and there has not been a shred of evidence suggesting the presence of weapons, or of violence initiated by protesters.
The mediators’ most disastrous error was their choice to put pressure on the victims. In their eyes, we were the cause of the crisis, not the illegal putsch that suspended the Constitution and kidnapped the president.
Secretary of State John Kerry’s astonishing remark on Aug. 1 that the coup was “restoring democracy,” despite a disavowal from the White House, did not leave the impression that America was on the side of the peaceful protesters.
If only we could accept the coup as a fait accompli, we were told, all would be well. There would be “good will gestures” from the military, and there would be an “inclusive” democracy.
We have heard all those promises before. The military and so-called liberal elites have shown time and again that they believe they are entitled to a veto over Egyptians’ choices. But the general who betrayed his oath and held the only elected president in the history of Egypt in extralegal detention cannot be trusted to let an opposition movement survive, let alone thrive.
For those seriously interested in a way out of this crisis, some hard facts must be acknowledged.
First, this is a battle between those who envision a democratic, pluralistic Egypt in which the individual has dignity and power changes hands at the ballot box and those who support a militarized state in which government is imposed on the people by force.
Second, this coup has already sent Egypt back into the dark ages of dictatorship — with tight military control over both state-owned and private media, attacks on peaceful protesters and journalists, and detention of opposition leaders without criminal charges or due process.
Third, there is no promise that General Sisi can make that he hasn’t already betrayed. He took an oath to uphold the Constitution; he suspended the Constitution. He took an oath to loyally serve in the government; he toppled that government. And in the classic doublespeak of military juntas, he loudly condemned the opposition for dealing with foreign powers, while he was actively seeking the help of Western diplomats as well as the Persian Gulf sheikdoms that largely financed his coup.
Through all this, the United States government has pleaded impotence. Hardly a day goes by without some press officer, analyst or public official pushing the idea that Washington’s influence really isn’t that decisive with the Egyptian generals. This cop-out simply won’t do. America had influence and still does. It was an American official, not an Egyptian one, who informed President Morsi’s staff of the finality of the coup decision.
There is only one way forward in Egypt today. The legitimate government must be restored. Only then can we hold talks for a national reconciliation with every option on the table.
The reinstatement of Mr. Morsi is not about ideology or ego. It is not political grandstanding. It is not a negotiating tactic. It is a pragmatic necessity.
Without this crucial step, without accountability for those responsible for the bloodshed and chaos facing Egypt today, none of the promises of inclusion, democracy, liberty or life can be guaranteed.
What the United States ultimately decides to do with its diplomatic relations or foreign aid is President Obama’s decision. But Americans need to recognize that every passing day solidifies the perception among Egyptians that American rhetoric on democracy is empty; that American politicians won’t hesitate to flout their own laws or subvert their declared values for short-term political gains; and that when it comes to freedom, justice and human dignity, Muslims need not apply.
The regime we are facing in Egypt is not new. It is one with which we are intimately familiar. Its leaders are selling torture, repression and stagnation. We are not buying. And America shouldn’t either.
Amr Darrag is a member of the executive board of the Freedom and Justice Party, which is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. He was Egypt’s minister of planning and international cooperation under President Mohamed Morsi.