July 27, 2013
The Interior Minister Speaketh
UPDATE: Important related context from the FT here.
A Coup That Will Resonate Far Beyond Tahrir
The mood was festive as the dim, bearded President Morsi and his equally bovine Muslim Brotherhood cadres--or so the caricature we are told by comme il faut Cairenes--were carted out on the backs of a supposed Revolution 2.0 on June 30th. The buffoonish Egyptian press went into jubilant tizzy, the Tamarrod twitterers into an orgy of self-righteous contentment (strikingly unawares of their abject kow-towing to the military and deep state behind), and the West looked on, at best with cautious incrementalism, at worst in abject cluelessness. For good measure, David Brooks helpfully chimed in, averring that Islamists "lack the mental equipment to govern" (left unsaid was what this showcased about other's ''mental equipment").
As developments progressed amidst these assorted enthusiasms, the prima facie proof this was a coup full stop was clear to all but those purposefully deluding themselves. Still, to the annals of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ or such Orwellian verbal mish-mash, we can now add the notion of a ‘popular impeachment’. Hill notables issued such clap-trap. The Administration, perhaps priding itself on a dose of Scowcroftian realpolitik (deluded, if so), instead retreated into a disingenuous bunker of silence, no one daring utter the dreaded “c” word. Israel lobbied, of course, that such a designation not be made (Morsi too cozy with their Hamas cousins, Sinai security risks, and in a worst case scenario, sacrosanct pillars like Camp David coming into starker relief). But even cynical observers must have been surprised by the Administration’s ultimate tack, wholly avoiding having to designate it a coup or not, as go figure, we simply wouldn’t broach the issue! Call it the ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ school of foreign policy. As Noah Feldman reminds us, however, the President of the United States does have an obligation to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed” (well, I suppose that ship had already sailed, ex-legacy con law trappings).
As Washington cowers, with wrist-slaps on delayed F-16 deliveries and such, while Sisi and Co. are doubtless told to ‘hold tight’ and ‘course correct’ the revolution (by a reactionary counter-revolution!), the Egyptian Army is getting down to old-fashioned, brass-tacks business on the boulevards of Egypt’s cities. In tactics that will make Bashar al-Asad feel Damascus and Cairo are enjoying kindred moments amidst the hot summer months, snipers are shooting to kill, and doing quite well at it, with scores dead on Egypt’s streets (to date, at least, Egypt’s Army only uses its airpower to wow the Tahrir bevy with air shows, not bombardments a la Bashar). These massacres carry the stench of a brutish military trying to quash the opposition because they realize that the teeming slums of Egypt’s cities reveal much support for President Morsi, now under protracted arrest whereabouts unknown, but likely now housed near former President Mubarak, in a neat historical touch. After all, the man won 52% of the vote, like it or not. As for his bungling performance in office, what sentient individual in these United States wouldn’t have liked to mount a ‘popular impeachment’ amidst Dubya’s strikingly horrific stewardship of the levers of power, whether Katrina, Abu Ghraib, Rumsfeld’s dereliction, and Cheney’s despicable usurpation of the Executive? But, alas, one must wait for elections, at least if we are going to play pretend we are in the throes of a democratic “liberal” revolution.
Why should we care? These going-ons are taking place in far-away Arab lands, and summer entertainment might be more easily had by the pitiable Carlos Danger's vying for ink for sexting near-minors and such, like incredibly needy cretins. Well, for one, Egypt represents the beating epicenter of the entire Arab world and is the paramount, central actor in the denouement of the Arab Spring, such as it is. The enthusiasm by which Riyadh turned on the dollar spigot to Sisi’s gang should tell us all we need to know regarding the reactive forces at play. As blood spills, trumped up charges that are bogus in the extreme are lobbed at Morsi, and the crack-down intensifies in general, is the risk of mass Islamic disenchantment during the most high profile episode of the Arab uprisings not manifestly clear?
Of course, this is a mug’s game, and whatever the U.S. did (or didn’t) each side will be dissatisfied. But the singular implications of the Egyptian uprising all but demanded a more robust American reaction defending the integrity of the ballot-box, even if just pretending to muster some spine, rather than speaking of a naked coup as constituting some enlightened “second chance” for the revolution. How is an effective putsch to accomplish that, no matter how Westernized the technocrats that will preen about the instrumentalities of government power looking to unlock IMF funds, while Sisi and the Army control the real levers?
Foggy Bottom, the Pentagon and the White House will delude themselves that we are retaining ‘leverage’ over Sisi and will control outcomes, but our supine compliance to date has spoken volumes. The Generals get it, and they are getting on with it. The Islamists, if Egypt doesn’t descend into full-bore civil war, will remember, as they go into ‘hiding’. Another chapter in Islamist rejection is being written, this time vividly with respect to participatory democracy given their victory was stolen, and while we were never meant to be central players, and indeed must be cautious, there are nonetheless times where fecklessness of this magnitude will backfire to our detriment.
It is a quiet summer weekend down in Washington, and I shudder to think about the quality of the ‘Egypt discussion’ on the Sunday shows (to extent even broached), but this much is clear: the violence committed today, whether dozens, scores, over a hundred or more dead; was grotesque and unwarranted. It speaks to a military conscious of its eroding legitimacy (and this already during the immediate post-June 30th honeymoon period), likely increasingly fearful of the specter of civil war and, irrespective, feeling far too entitled to use brute force to quash dissent to try to avoid greater tumult. It is high time to signal to Egypt’s real power brokers (not some risibly figure-head President) that the implications of such continued conduct will have real ramifications, starting by what all but the willfully blind across the world know to be true: have the cojones to call a coup a coup.
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About Belgravia Dispatch
Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.
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