It wasn’t long ago that Secretary of State John Kerry was crediting Egypt’s generals for their democratic intentions and their role in preventing a full-blown civil war. But that was before Wednesday’s bloody crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo. Now Kerry is lashing out at the military he was publicly, if cautiously, extolling just weeks before, calling attacks against demonstrators a "serious blow to reconciliation and the Egyptian people’s hopes for a transition towards democracy and inclusion."
Speaking on behalf of President Obama, who is on vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, Kerry called Wednesday’s events "deplorable," saying they "run counter to Egyptians aspirations for peace, inclusion and genuine democracy." Across the country, at least 278 people were killed as Egyptian authorities cracked down on two anti-government sit-ins in Cairo.
Prior to today, few U.S. officials have been more supportive of the Egyptian military than Kerry, who has contextualized its decision to overthrow President Mohamed Morsy in a number of supportive statements.
"In effect, they were restoring democracy," Kerry said this month during a visit to Pakistan. "The military did not take over, to the best of our judgment-so far, so far-to run the country. There’s a civilian government." Today, Egypt’s government lost some of that civilian quality with the resignation of Vice President Mohammad ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who left office in protest of the violent crackdown.
In July, Kerry suggested that the military’s swift actions may have prevented a civil war. "You had an extraordinary situation in Egypt of life and death, of the potential of civil war and enormous violence," he said.
In recent days, Kerry walked back his remarks about "restoring democracy" to some extent, however, today’s address at the State Department marked a watershed moment in his posture toward the on-again off-again ally. The question now is whether the U.S. will back up its disapproval with more punitive action.
Last month, the Pentagon moved in that direction with the postponement of a shipment of F-16 fighter jets to Egypt. The U.S. has so far refused to cut off the $1.3 billion in annual military aid, despite the wishes of a small minority in Congress.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. is now "seriously considering" cancelling plans to hold a military exercise with Egypt planned in about a month, but there’s no final word on that yet.
Back at Martha’s Vineyard, White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the U.S. "strongly opposed" the military’s declared state of emergency, which includes a curfew . "We have repeatedly called on the Egyptian military and security forces to show restraint, and for the government to respect the universal rights of its citizens, just as we’ve urged protesters to demonstrate peacefully," he said.
Still, it’s clear that U.S. officials are not yet ready to pull the plug on U.S.-Egypt relations. "I am convinced that that path is, in fact, still open and it is possible, though it has been made much, much harder, much more complicated, by the events of today," said Kerry.
Marc Lynch is associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, where he is the director of the Institute for Middle East Studies and of the Project on Middle East Political Science. He is also a non-resident senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. He is the author of The Arab Uprising (March 2012, PublicAffairs).
He publishes frequently on the politics of the Middle East, with a particular focus on the Arab media and information technology, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, and Islamist movements.| Marc Lynch |