The Middle East Channel

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood calls for renewed protests Friday

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood has called for a "march of anger" two days after an estimated 638 people were killed and thousands injured when security forces cleared two protest camps in Cairo. Supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi are expected to gather in 28 locations in Cairo including Ramses Square after noon prayers on Friday. There are heightened concerns of further violence as security forces have been authorized to use live ammunition in self-defense and to protect public institutions. Cairo and several Egyptian provinces are under a state of emergency, and the army has been deployed to protect "important and vital facilities." Protesters set fire to a government building in Cairo on Thursday. U.S. President Barack Obama canceled military exercises planned with Egypt and said "our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets and rights are being rolled back." However he stopped short of suspending the estimated $1.5 billion in predominantly military assistance to Egypt. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he called Egypt's army chief, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Thursday saying the United States would maintain its military relationship with Egypt but warned that the violent crackdown was putting defense cooperation at risk. Also on Thursday, some European officials called for the suspension of EU aid to Egypt, and Denmark cut off assistance. On Friday, French President François Hollande consulted with Britain and Germany on the escalating political crisis.

Syria

Anti-tank guided missiles recently supplied by Saudi Arabia are boosting rebel positions in southern Syria. Opposition fighters reportedly used the Russia-designed Konkurs anti-tank weapons in an assault on the Syrian army in Daraa as well as near the rebel stronghold of Laja. According to some experts, the recent arms deliveries may signal the beginning of a major supply line, headed by Saudi Arabia, into southern Syria. Meanwhile, the U.S. Defense Department is converting a warehouse on the outskirts of the Jordanian capital of Amman into a military operations center, Centcom Forward-Jordan, in order to coordinate support for the Jordanian military. The move comes as Jordan copes with a soaring refugee crisis from the Syrian civil war and as concerns of cross-border spillover increase. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin E. Dempsey, said the mission is to show Jordanians "that they can count on us to continue to be their partner." He continued, "We are at our best when we can actually shape events and prevent conflict." Thousands of Syrian refugees flowed into the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq on Thursday, crossing a new pontoon bridge over the Tigris River. According to the United Nations, between 5,000 and 7,000 refugees followed an initial group of about 750 people, adding to the over 150,000 Syrian refugees already registered in Iraq.

Headlines

  • A car bombing killed up to 24 people in the Hezbollah stronghold of the southern suburbs of Lebanon's capital Beirut Thursday, in an attack believed to be linked to the Syrian conflict, and claimed by a previously unknown group "Brigade of Aisha."
  • After four days of debate Iran's Parliament approved 15 of President Hassan Rowhani's proposed cabinet ministers Thursday, but rejected three of his nominees accused of ties to the Green Movement.

Arguments and Analysis

'It Only Gets Worse from Here' (Issandr El Amrani, The Arabist)

"You could ask a thousand questions about the violence that has shaken Egypt, from why police decided to move now against Islamist sit-ins and with such brutality after making so much of its careful planning in the last week, to whether the attacks on churches and Christians more generally that erupted in reaction are part of a pre-planned reaction or the uncontrollable sectarian direction political tensions take in moments of crisis. But the question that really bothers me is whether this escalation is planned to create a situation that will inevitably trigger more violence -- that this is the desired goal.

The fundamental flaw of the July 3 coup, and the reason those demonstrators that came out on June 30 against the Morsi administration were wrong to welcome it, is that it was based on an illusion. That illusion, at least among the liberal camp which is getting so much flak these days, was that even a partial return of the old army-led order could offer a chance to reboot the transition that took such a wrong turn after the fall of Hosni Mubarak on February 11, 2011. This camp believed that gradual reform, even of a much less ambitious nature than they desired in 2011, would be more likely to come by accommodating the old order than by allowing what they perceived as an arrangement between the military and the Islamists to continue. Better to focus on fixing the country, notably its economy, and preventing Morsi from sinking it altogether, and take the risk that part of the old order could come back."

'Statement: Working Group on Egypt'

"Despite the mistakes committed by former president Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood over the past year in Egypt, and despite the incitement and violence demonstrated by some Brotherhood supporters yesterday, the killing of hundreds of protesters carried out by the Egyptian military government was unnecessary, unjustified, and in contravention of international human rights standards. These events demand a shift in U.S. policy that is urgent and long overdue. We agree with President Barack Obama's decision to cancel the Bright Star joint military exercise, with his condemnation of violence against civilians, with his emphasis on the need for the Egyptian government to respect the human rights of all its citizens, and with his call for positive steps towards reconciliation.

However, the president's failure to suspend aid to the Egyptian military is a strategic error that undercuts those objectives and weakens U.S. credibility, after repeated calls by the U.S. administration for Egyptian authorities to avoid bloodshed have been disregarded. Whatever President Obama may say about U.S. support for democratic values in Egypt, continued U.S. aid sends a signal to the Egyptian military -- and to the world -- that the United States condones the Egyptian leadership's actions. The continuation of aid removes a source of meaningful international pressure that could help to forestall future atrocities and prevent further steps toward consolidation of an undemocratic system in Egypt."

'America the Omnipotent' (Hussein Ibish, Ibishblog)

"Arab anti-Americanism rests on two pillars: disillusionment and perceived betrayal by an ideal, combined with a wild overestimation of American power. Arabs therefore oscillate between yearning for American leadership and resenting its clout.

Contrast the ubiquitous, and normatively negative, Arab sentiments towards the United States with an almost total disinterest in the role of Russia. Yet if there is an external power up to no good in the Middle East, it is Russia. Its wholehearted support for the Syrian dictatorship helped kill at least 100,000 people in the past two years.

But there is no unrequited love affair with Russia. No sense of betrayal. No feeling of an abandoned ideal or love-hate neurosis. That Russia does what's in its interests is simply accepted with a shrug. The dearth of conspiracy theories about the Kremlin's machinations -- especially compared to the plethora of bizarre fantasies attributed to the White House -- reveals Arab anti-Americanism to be a collective neurotic symptom, fundamentally disconnected from reality.

Of course anti-Americanism is consciously and cynically abused in much Arab political rhetoric. It's too easy a tool of manipulation for unscrupulous demagogues to pass up. And it works, all too often and all too well. Indeed, it's so pervasive and visceral that it most closely resembles the rage of a jilted lover."

--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber

STR/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Muslim Brotherhood calls for marches as Egypt’s death toll rises

Egypt has reported that 525 people have been killed and 3,717 others wounded since security forces broke up two pro-Morsi protest camps Wednesday. The final death toll is likely to be much higher as many bodies have not yet been registered. Of the people killed, 43 were security personnel, according to the health ministry, and at least two journalists were reported dead. Most of those killed were in Cairo, however violence was reported across the country and many churches were burned and police stations attacked. The Egyptian government has imposed a month long state of emergency in Cairo and 10 other provinces. Additionally, Egyptian officials have arrested 543 people suspected of involvement in clashes and riots. The Muslim Brotherhood called for marches on Thursday and vowed to bring down the "military coup" that ousted former President Mohamed Morsi. Wednesday's violence spurred international condemnation, and the resignation of interim Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei. France and Germany summoned their Egyptian ambassadors and Turkey called for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council to discuss what Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called a "massacre." The United States said it strongly opposed the declaration of a state of emergency in Egypt and pushed for the military backed government to respect basic human rights. The Egyptian government said the sit-ins posed a threat to security and claimed the police used maximum restraint in dispersing the protesters.

Syria

The United Nations has announced a team of U.N. experts will depart immediately to conduct an investigation in Syria into alleged chemical weapons use. Initially, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad insited that the inquiry be limited to Khan al-Assal, however nearly two weeks ago the Syrian government said it would allow the experts access to three sites. However, the investigation was delayed over a lack of agreement on security arrangements. On Wednesday, the office of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon released a statement saying the Syrian government "formally accepted the modalities essential for cooperation to ensure the proper, safe and efficient conduct of the mission." The team will visit Khan al-Assal, the site of an alleged chemical weapons attack on March 19, as well as two undisclosed sites. The experts will only report on whether chemical weapons were used, but not who was responsible for their use. There are concerns over whether the experts will be able to find any conclusive evidence as the alleged incidents happened months ago. According to U.N. Mideast envoy Robert Serry, the United Nations has received 13 reports of alleged chemical weapons use in Syria since the uprisings began in 2011.

Headlines

Arguments and Analysis

'Egypt's Catastrophe of Choice' (Joshua Hersh, The New Yorker)

"The Rabaa sit-in had evolved over time into something more like a small village: it had tented structures, some of them two-story, with electricity cribbed from street lamps; a fully operational pharmacy; and a professional-grade soundstage, from which Brotherhood figures delivered rousing speeches each night to the thousands of supporters who visited Rabaa, and another smaller site in Nahda Square, across town, every day.

Now, much of the protest site lay in tatters. The police and military, for weeks, had threatened to clear the sit-ins 'by whatever means necessary,' and then -- under pressure from human-rights groups and from the government itself -- promised instead simply to surround the sites and wait them out, but they had suddenly opted for the most aggressive choice of all: they showed up at 7 A.M., without notice, in bulldozers and armored vehicles, and fired a barrage of tear gas and live ammunition. By the afternoon, nearly a hundred protesters, and then a hundred and forty-nine, had been counted as dead. (The real number is likely higher.)

Even outside Rabaa, the scene was a frenzy of close urban combat -- tear gas and shooting, some of it rubber bullets, much of it live, automatic fire. Standing at a major intersection about a kilometre away, my colleagues and I watched as wounded combatants were ferried to a waiting bay of ambulances, at a rate of nearly one every two minutes. Shots echoed constantly off the tall apartment buildings, sounding like cracks of lightning. An hour into the clashes, Ahmad Ramzi, a doctor who had volunteered to help (a stethoscope dangled incongruously from his neck), said that he had personally ferried three shooting victims to the hospital, two of them with life-threatening wounds. He didn't know if they had made it."

'Washington's next moves after the Egyptian military's bloody crackdown' (Heather Hurlburt, The Guardian)

"It is now time to sketch out and begin to act on what a more coercive policy would look like, using the leverage we have. A simple consequence would be to note that the 'Leahy law' -- which bars US support to military units that violate human rights with impunity -- makes any Egyptian forces found to have participated in today's killings ineligible for US military training and assistance applies. The administration must act accordingly.

A more comprehensive move would be to announce either that the US has been forced to conclude that Morsi's removal did amount to a coup, or (probably better) to announce an immediate cut in US assistance to Egypt's military as a response to the killings.

Attentive readers will note that I am not proposing a cut-off of all US military assistance: a more nuanced tool would be to announce that Washington will conduct a review of its aid to Egypt. This would assess what levels and types of aid serve US 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."

--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber

KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images