The heightened turbulence that has defined Egypt’s social and political dynamic since the military coup earlier this month has escalated even further, tragically culminating in 72 deaths over the weekend. Casualties were disproportionately pro-Morsi, pro-Muslim Brotherhood protesters who, at the hands of police officers, other Egyptian security officials, and military-sympathizing civilians, were arbitrarily killed by gunshot.
See photos below.
Empowered by Mohamed Morsi’s usurper, General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, who in a televised speech Wednesday called for “a mandate to confront possible violence and terrorism,” the new regime’s enforcers exercised no restraint in squelching the protesters. It is the second mass gathering by Morsi’s supporters since the coup d’état, the first of which resulted in 60 deaths, and it appears that violence was not provoked by protesters, but rather sought out by the police.
This latest brute exercise of force by the new regime has understandably sparked further outrage amongst Morsi supporters, who stand unable to express their ideals without fear of fatal repercussions.
Trying, albeit unsuccessfully, to skew the globe’s sympathies for the civil conflict, Egypt’s Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim blatantly lied to the public, claiming his officers “have never and will never shoot a bullet on any Egyptian.” Any violence that occurred at the protest, Ibrahim insists, was provoked solely by demonstrators, and he claims his police merely reacted in order to impose stability.
Although not overtly opposing General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi’s administration, the United States has absolutely empathized with protesters, encouraging free and healthy discourse and indirectly condemning the state’s violence.
In a statement addressing this weekends tragedies, Secretary of State John Kerry insisted that Egypt’s new leadership “respect the right of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.” Moreover, not willing to yet alienate either side, Mr. Kerry noted that "over two years ago, a revolution began. It’s final verdict is not yet decided, but it will be forever impacted by what happens right now.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel echoed this sentiment, reinforcing that “the United States believes that the current transition needs to be marked by inclusivity, that Egyptian authorities should avoid politicized arrests and detentions, and take steps to prevent further bloodshed and loss of life.”
Because General Sisi has been stringently insistant that terrorists, which he considers his opponents to be, are militarily suppressed in Egypt, it is unlikely that he voluntary opt for an inclusive national dialogue.
And, a government that came to power by defying democratic will, the new regime will unlikely concur with Mr. Hagel’s assessment that “It is in the short and long term interests of the Egyptian people to renew their path toward democratic transition, and to emphasize tolerance across the political spectrum."
Given that General Sisi and his sympathizers have consistently denied, and then rationalized their use of unprovoked force as a means of silencing protest, there is not much hope of sudden internal concord. The United States and its diplomats are correct to articulate its principles of freedom of speech, but no amount of indirect condemnation by either President Obama or his administration will effectively alter the situation in Egypt. It unfortunately appears that the 72 deaths over the weekend are just the beginning of what will be a long, bloody Egyptian transitional period, the result of which remains disconcertingly unclear.