As the situation in Egypt metastasizes from a series of political protests to a full-blown state of emergency with a death toll as high as 327*, the impact on the North African country as well as the entire global community cannot be overstated. The clashes between the pro-Muslim Brotherhood contingent and Egyptian military forces have created heightened tensions and suggested the potential for a kind of Arab radicalization that’s a harbinger of vital concern.
Even for Americans who tend to pay attention to what’s happening in places like Egypt only as a distant curiosity, the ratcheting up of military force and the rising death toll have begun to send tremors, even if small ones. To those who are acutely aware, it clear how what’s happening “over there” can quickly become a tangible, very real matter for “over here.” Since 9/11, that equation is much more than an intangible.
But first, a brief timeline For most Americans, that starts with Mubarek:
1. Hosni Mubarak, who ruled Egypt for almost 30 years, was swept from power on February 11, 2011 after weeks of widespread protests. The U.S. had been very vocal about Mubarek stepping aside to allow for elections in a more Democratic government and Americans and the rest of the world were hopeful when Mubarek resigned. He was later prosecuted and sentenced to life imprisonment, a consequence mitigated only by his failing health, as he is said to be in a stroke-induced coma.
2. Following Mubarek into office as the first democratically elected president in Egypt, was Mohammed Morsi, who had moved up the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood to win the majority support of a hopeful nation. That was June 30, 2012.
3. But the optimism was short-lived. Morsi didn’t follow through on the mission statement of a true, open democracy, instead aligning with the Muslim Brotherhood to run the country as if it were their dictatorship. Egyptians who had initially heralded the Mubarek/Morsi transition were quick to react, feeling that Morsi did little to improve the country’s social and economic problems. Intense and relentless anti-government protests ensued and on July 3rd of this year, Morsi was ousted by the army after only one year in office. Since then, Egypt has been in serial turmoil.
4. Concurrent to the ouster of Morsi, Adly al-Mansour, head of Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court, became the interim leader of the country. The Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces announced that Mr. Mansour would take on Presidential duties until fresh elections are called.
5. Mohamed El Baradei, the vice-president of the military-backed interim government, resigned Wednesday, August 14th, as the fighting between security forces and the Muslim Brotherhood/pro-Morsi supporters intensified and his own fractious relationship with al-Mansour finally snapped under the strain. El Baradei, a known liberal, was said to have been working from the inside to prevent the military from taking action against the protesters, but when security forces moved in on two separate pro-Morsi sit-ins and hundreds were reported to have been killed, El Baradei had clearly reached his tipping point and resigned.
As the number of dead and injured are tallied and there appears to be no immediate end in sight, the global community watches in growing horror and concern. But where do we Americans stand on this? Is this just another foreign struggle we watch from afar but in which we have no true vested interest? Not so, say international experts. From CNN:
There are at least five reasons why we’re [Americans] paying attention to the turmoil in the North African country.
1. Egypt is considered one of the most important and influential nations in the Arab world.
Arab countries are a major source of oil for the United States, and any turmoil in Egypt will send instability into the American market.
2. The country’s stability can affect other markets.
Egypt controls the Suez Canal, an important shipping route between Africa and Asia.
3. US diplomacy in the Middle East.
Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel is a key in maintaining peace in the region.
4. America continues the fight against terrorism, and the youth unemployment rate in Egypt is high.
The US is concerned over the poor economy there because it can become a breeding ground for terrorists.
5. The US sends Egypt $1.5 billion in foreign aid each year.
The African union has suspended Egypt’s membership since Morsi’s ouster. The union usually suspends countries where a military coup has occurred.
It’s reported, however, that Egyptians are currently “wary” of the U.S. government, feeling the State Department’s response to the events of Wednesday showed a “meekness” that doesn’t put enough of a stamp on the denouncement of anti-deomocratic forces:
John Kerry, the US secretary of state, has condemned the violence in Egypt as “deplorable” – but refused to say whether America would take steps to pressure the military into halting its onslaught. Tensions between the two countries are rising. [Source]
Several journalists have been killed as they’ve covered the story, and newspapers from around the world are loudly front-paging the crackdown and the ensuing declaration of a state of emergency. In other words, this is growing story of global importance. The horror of seeing images of hundreds of Egyptians killed in violent and aggressive “crowd-clearing exercises” by military forces – for doing nothing more dramatic than sitting-in to protest the government – should strike fear in the heart of anyone who held a shred of hope that Egypt could find a true and solid democracy.
In fact, two of the most troubling aspect of this unrest are what it portends in terms of Egypt’s future government and the potential for the breeding of Arab radicalization. From The Atlantic:
As the Egyptian military consolidates control by murdering pro-Muslim Brotherhood protesters and declaring a state of emergency, we may be witnessing the most dangerous potential for Arab radicalization since the two Palestinian intifadas. Despite the resignation Wednesday of Mohamed ElBaradei, the vice president, in opposition to the Egyptian junta’s action, the discomfiting fact is that most of Egypt’s liberal “democrats”–along with the United States–have never looked more hypocritical. If the bloody crackdown is allowed to continue while the U.S. and West do nothing, the actions of the Egyptian military could de-legitimize democratic change in the Arab world for a generation or more.
And for Washington, a dream that began with the neoconservative push to turn Iraq into a “model democracy” after the 2003 invasion–the somewhat naïve Western hope that the Arab nations would catch up with the rest of the world–may already be dead. Worse, the loss of moderate Islamist alternatives, and the failure of democracy, could supply al-Qaida with its biggest recruiting campaign since 9/11.
If nothing else, that last statement should chill the heart of any American. The tragic story is unfolding. Clearly, we must pay attention.
Here’s the video:
* UPDATE: Clearly this situation is fluid and changing, with the death count in flux. As of 8.15.13, 7:30 am PST, the death count had risen to over 500.
* UPDATE: as of 8.15.13, 4:00 pm PST, the death count is reported at 578 with 4,200 injured; most are Morsi supporters.