The Middle East Channel

Senior U.S. official visits Egypt amid mass protests

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns arrived in Cairo Monday amid calls for rival protests. Burns will be the first senior U.S. official to meet with Egypt’s new military led government, which began swearing in its new cabinet Sunday, since the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi on July 3. His visit comes amid increased ...

GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images
GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns arrived in Cairo Monday amid calls for rival protests. Burns will be the first senior U.S. official to meet with Egypt’s new military led government, which began swearing in its new cabinet Sunday, since the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi on July 3. His visit comes amid increased anti-American sentiment on all sides. Burns is expected to urge "an end to all violence and a transition leading to an inclusive, democratically elected civilian government." Further aggravating tensions, Egypt’s public prosecutor has frozen the financial assets of 14 Muslim Brotherhood leaders. Islamists are calling for massive protests Monday, as are Morsi’s secularist opponents. Meanwhile, militants have attacked a bus in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula killing three people and wounding at least 17 others. The militants reportedly hit the bus, carrying cement workers, with rocket-propelled grenades. A North Sinai security official said the attackers were Morsi supporters, "and they want to tell us that even though Morsi is gone, we are still here." He said that the armed forces have increased security in recent days in Sinai to address the militant threat.

Syria

A car bomb exploded overnight outside the police headquarters in the town of Deir Attiyeh, about 50 miles north of the Syrian capital of Damascus. The attack killed at least 13 people including 10 policemen and one child, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). Syria’s state news agency confirmed the attack but not the number of casualties, and said the bomb exploded in a residential area. The attack has occurred as the Syrian government is working to regain control in the regions surrounding Damascus. The Syrian military has stepped up attacks in the northwestern province of Idlib killing at least 29 people according to the SOHR. The government reportedly conducted five air strikes Sunday with the most severe hitting the village of Maghara, killing at least eight women and six children. Meanwhile, anonymous U.S. officials have confirmed an Israeli airstrike near Syria’s port of Latakia targeting advanced missiles sold to Syria by Russia. The Russian-made Yakhont anti-ship cruise missiles are a concern for the United States because they increase Syria’s ability to target Western ships transferring supplies to the Syrian opposition. Additionally, they have been a threat to Israel’s naval forces, and Israel is concerned weapons are being transferred to Hezbollah. Israeli officials refused to comment on the attack, however it was the fourth known Israeli air strike on a Syrian target this year. Israeli Defense Minster Moshe Yalalon reiterated Israel’s policy on the Syrian conflict last week saying it would not get involved except to prevent weapons transfers.

Headlines  

  • A wave of bombings on Sunday killed at least 34 people across Iraq amid a spike in violence with the start of Ramadan.
  • Speaking on "Face the Nation" Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu increased pressure on the U.S. for a military option to stop Iran’s nuclear development program saying Israel may "have to address this question of how to stop Iran, perhaps before the United States does." 

Arguments and Analysis

Whither Egypt’s Democracy?‘ (Ahmad Shokr, MERIP)

"Egypt is still ruled by the armature of the old regime. Two and a half years of elite factionalism — the inability to forge a stable alliance — have set off a game of musical chairs. In this period, the momentum has rotated among Islamists, liberals, state bureaucrats, businessmen, military and security officials, and Mubarak-era dregs. They share a fetish for capturing the state but also the lack of a novel vision for dealing with Egypt’s deep structural problems. Attempts by any combination of these figures to restore full-fledged authoritarianism are likely to be tempered by some level of public disobedience. At the same time, there is no revolutionary coalition strong enough to begin overturning the undemocratic and inegalitarian legacies of previous regimes. A balance of weakness has set in whereby no side in Egyptian politics is able to claim outright victory.

More distressing, perhaps, is a societal mood that is becoming more inclined toward intolerance and scapegoating. Egypt’s unsavory climate of chauvinism, intransigence, opportunism and deceit from almost every side has been made worse by Mursi’s ouster and its bloody aftermath. Media outlets are constantly in search of fifth columnists to demonize, whether as ‘terrorists’ or as ‘infidels.’ The Brothers are portrayed as traitors with a penchant for violence who must be forcibly subdued. For their part, the Brothers paint the revolt against their rule as a little more than a conspiracy hatched by the old regime. They insist their resistance to the army is peaceful, but the string of violent acts by Mursi supporters — the killing of protesters in Cairo and Alexandria, the intimidation and mob attacks directed at Christians in Minya and Marsa Matrouh — tells a different story. There were even accusations that the interim president is secretly a Jew.

The upsurge of aggressive patriotism on the other side is worrying, too. In Cairo, images of Gamal Abdel Nasser are becoming common, as are intemperate professions of affinity with the army. Foreigners are viewed with suspicion. Conspiracy theories abound. ‘Obama supports terrorism,’ is a standard refrain at protests, referring to the US president’s imagined fidelity to the Muslim Brothers. Under new visa regulations, Syrian refugees are threatened with deportation, while prominent television personalities whip up animosity toward them. Abuses committed by anyone who is not Islamist — from sexual assaults at public gatherings to police brutality — are ignored, or worse, justified by most state and private media. Critical sensibilities are numbed amidst a profusion of nationalist euphoria. Two narratives are increasingly dominating Egyptian politics: one of Islamist defiance in the face of victimization and another of a revitalized nation set free from tyranny. The pluralistic landscape — revolutionary, Islamist, fuloul — that existed for much of the post-2011 period is pulling apart toward these two poles."

Rebels Beware of the Bears that Hug your Generals‘ (Sharif S. Elmusa, Mada Masr)

"The Gulf governments — in addition to their feuds with the Muslim Brotherhood, whom they see as rivals — must be betting that the networks of the old regime together with the military and security forces will be the real drivers of the Egyptian state. Surely, if we go by the dictum that there is no free lunch, the new Egyptian government will have to reciprocate the American largesse and reactionary Arab munificence. Rebels, beware of the bear that hugs your generals!

The first steps of the military since the ouster of Morsi should be taken as a cautionary tale. The appointees for the top three positions so far all lack a strong political base. Interim President Adly Mansour is the former head of Egypt’s equivalent of the Supreme Court, and a Mubarak regime appointee. Mohamed ElBaradei, the chief of the fledgling Dostour Party, is vice president for foreign affairs.  In such a position, he has to sell the new order to the outside world and cease to be a critic. Hazem al-Beblawi, the prime minister, is an economist, an independent without a following. He says he will form a government of technocrats, exactly what the former Prime Minister Hesham Qandil had promised. Although highly misleading, the idea of a technocratic cabinet has a long pedigree in Egypt and remains popular today even among the Rebels. Core issues, such as equality, or whether to shift away from neoliberal economics, have technical aspects, yet are at heart political and ideological and need political muscle. Who will make decisions on such issues, and on what grounds?

In another move, the military has violated the human rights of the Islamists, shut down their TV stations, imprisoned the leadership of the Muslim Brothers and others, and has yet to issue an independent report about the killing of more than 50 people and the injuring of hundreds in front of the Republican Guards headquarters. These actions have been condemned by international human rights organizations, but not by the very people and journalists who were vociferous against like violations of rights under the Mubarak and Morsi presidencies. Freedom of expression and assembly cannot be selective."

–Mary Casey & Joshua Haber

 Twitter: @casey_mary

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