Egypt in turmoil as military clashes with Muslim Brotherhood

A month-long state of emergency has been declared in Egypt, as military forces battle Muslim Brotherhood loyalists, following a crackdown on two Brotherhood “sit-in” camps in Cairo.  The Muslim Brotherhood claimed over 500 deaths when the camps were cleared, although this seems exaggerated to observers.  The official death toll from street battles across the country is creeping up on 150, including two journalists, Mick Deane of Sky News and Habiba Ahmed Abd Elaziz of Dubai-based Gulf News.

Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei has resigned in protest, according to Fox News:

In a resignation letter sent to Interim President Adly Mansour as the day’s death toll from clashes throughout Egypt mounted, ElBaradei cited “decisions I do not agree with” regarding the government’s crackdown on the political turmoil which began on July 3 with the ouster of former President Mohammed Morsi, Reuters reports.

“It has become difficult for me to continue bearing responsibility for decisions that I do not agree with and whose consequences I fear,” ElBaradei wrote. “I cannot bear the responsibility for one drop of blood.”

Supporters of deposed Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammed Morsi claim the police slaughtered Brotherhood protesters with live ammo, while the government says they began using tear gas and other non-lethal ordnance, but came under fire from the protesters.  Reuters reports that “several television stations, all controlled by the state or its sympathizers, ran footage of what appeared to be pro-Mursi protesters firing rifles at soldiers from behind sandbag barricades,” but asserts that Western journalists “have not witnessed such incidents,” instead seeing only crowds “armed mainly with sticks, stones, and slabs of concrete.”

Sky News correspondent Sam Kiley reported that he saw a “massive military assault on largely unarmed civilians in very large numbers,” comparing it to the slaughter in Rwanda:

He said government forces were using machine guns, snipers, AK-47 and M16 rifles and were firing into the crowd.

Kiley added: “There are machine gun rounds, and snipers on the roof, that are preventing people from getting any closer to the field hospital (in the camp).

“I haven’t seen any evidence yet of any weapons on the side of the pro-Morsi camp. The camp is very full of women and children.”

The Mansour government is calling on protest groups to disband, and offering them safe passage if they comply.  Muslim Brotherhood leaders are calling on soldiers to mutiny against their commanders.  Der Spiegel mentions Brotherhood leaders “calling on their supporters in the camps to resist and die as martyrs if they had to,” but that detail has not been widely reported elsewhere.

The White House was strongly critical of the Egyptian government, as related by the Washington Post:

The Obama administration declared Wednesday that it opposes the state of emergency law imposed by Egypt???s military government and said it ???strongly condemns??? the violent crackdown that has killed scores of protesters.

Speaking from Martha???s Vineyard, Mass., where President Obama is vacationing, deputy press secretary Josh Earnest said the military???s move to disperse anti-government sit-ins and demonstrations with violence would make it more difficult for Egypt to move from a transitional government to new elections. Despite the violence, Earnest said the administration would not change its approach to the military government, led by Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sissi.

The crackdown confirmed some of the Obama administration???s worst fears of what could happen if the political standoff in the streets was not resolved, and showed the limits of American influence on the interim military-backed government. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Secretary of State John F. Kerry and others had repeatedly called for restraint and nonviolence, and Kerry, in particular, had publicly cast the military leaders as good stewards.

The Administration’s approach hasn’t been winning friends on either side of the Egyptian turmoil:

The administration had increasingly distanced itself from Morsi all spring, following the Egyptian leader???s failure to address economic reforms Kerry and others told him represented a last chance for international financial and political help. Kerry met with Morsi during a brief trip to Egypt in March, when he released $250 million in American aid and promised more if Morsi did the right things.

The administration declined to designate Morsi???s ouster as a coup because it would trigger an automatic cutoff of $1.3 billion in annual U.S. military aid to Egypt, which U.S. officials say represents diplomatic leverage in the standoff. Earnest said Wednesday that the administration still has no plans to designate Morsi???s ouster as a coup.

In Egypt, the administration has been faulted by both sides for its response to the July 3 ouster. Sissi said in a recent interview that Washington had turned its back on Egypt, and he expressed anger over the administration???s decision to temporarily suspend the shipment of fighter planes that were scheduled to be delivered this month. The Muslim Brotherhood, meanwhile, has charged that Washington was complicit in the ouster of Egypt???s first democratically elected president.

Whatever one thinks of Morsi, the Mansour government, or the Muslim Brotherhood, it seems faintly ridiculous to avoid classifying the situation in Egypt as a “coup,” when it fairly obviously is one.

Critics of both US and global media coverage of the Egyptian crisis contend that the Muslim Brotherhood has been painted with a very soft brush.  Writing at National Review, Andrew McCarthy notes the under-reporting of atrocities against the Coptic Christian community:

In the familiar pattern, the Western media are focused on the military raids against Islamic supremacists in Egypt but ignoring the latter???s use of violence and of women and children as human shields. After all, the ???protesters??? say they are ???peaceful.???

When not similarly ignored, Islamic supremacist aggression against Egypt???s Christians ??? which was a prominent feature of Muslim Brotherhood governance ??? is disingenuously reported. Take this AFP report of the fact that the Brotherhood and its allies are torching Coptic churches. The AFP endeavors to exculpate the Islamic supremacists by editorializing, in the report, that these were ???reprisal??? attacks. But the Brotherhood was not ousted by the minority Copts. To be sure, the Copts far prefer to take their chances with a largely secular, technocratic government backed by the armed forces than the rampant persecution they endured while the Brotherhood was running the show. But it is the army, not the Copts, who ejected Morsi.

Daniel Greenfield at Front Page Magazine cites reports from Amnesty International to say the Brotherhood “sit-ins” should be described as “terror camps.”

The so-called ???Sit Ins??? not only featured heavily armed men, but also torture and murder of political opponents. These camps were really mini-Brotherhood states where there was no law, but Brotherhood law. They are a warning sign of what Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood would have become.

The media is spinning this as a crackdown on political dissent, but the Muslim Brotherhood protesters were anything but non-violent. They were a violent terrorist movement.

Morsi ruthlessly cracked down on genuinely non-violent opposition. The men he terrorized were far more patient with his supporters than he was with theirs.

The report Greenfield links to includes accounts of anti-Morsi protesters “captured, beaten, subjected to electric shocks, or stabbed” at the Brotherhood camps.  There were also warnings about the heavy weapons those “sit-in” crowds were sitting on.

The current Egyptian regime seems to have very little to say about the crackdown – at least, not anything the world’s media organizations are eager to relay.  “In recent days, the Egyptian government has been split over how best to deal with the Muslim Brotherhood protests,” says Der Spiegel.  “Some have been calling for forceful action to clear the sit-ins, while others have urged more peaceful methods, like cutting off access to water, electricity or food. On Wednesday, it appeared those pushing for a hard-line approach prevailed.”  It would benefit news consumers around the globe to know more details about that internal debate, wouldn’t it?  At present, the government’s action against the Brotherhood appears disproportionate and unprovoked.  If the military regime has a different story to tell, they need to get it out there, fast.

Update: collects a stream of Twitter reports from Egypt about Christian churches and businesses destroyed by Muslim Brotherhood supporters – a grossly under-reported rampage described as a “pogrom” and “war of retaliation” by observers and Coptic-rights groups.

Update: The Washington Post spotlights a video from a private Egyptian newspaper that appears to show Muslim Brotherhood supporters using guns during street battles on Wednesday.

Update: The Right Scoop has video of former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton explaining that, contrary to the general media depiction of the Brotherhood as peaceful protesters, they had effectively seized control of areas of Egypt, leaving the government with little choice but to take action in the name of stability.  He said preserving such stability was essential to the two vital American objectives in Egypt: preserving the Camp David peace accords with Israel, and keeping the Suez Canal open.