The Status Quo:
Egypt’s interim Prime Minister, Hazemb el-Bablawi, says his governments deadly crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood protestors was justified because six-week long sit-ins “had reached a point that no self-respecting state could accept.”
The military backed government says
235 525 638 people died* in the day of violence and chaos, including 43 police officers and 2 journalists.
The Muslim Brotherhood, who backed the protestors, claims the death toll is over 2,000.
The clashes stared after dawn, Wednesday morning, with armored bulldozers moving into fortified protest camps in Cairo at Nahda Square and near the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque.
Nahda was cleared relatively quickly, but fighting near Rabaa continued through much of the day.
Scattered clashes sprung up around Cairo and in many other cities, spreading the carnage across the country.
The most prominent liberal supporter of the overthrow of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi, Vice-President Mohammed ElBaradei has resigned in response to the violent crack-down.
He claims “there were peaceful ways to end this clash,” and that he could not “shoulder the responsibility for a single drop of blood.”
The international community has condemned the violence, with Turkey calling for UN action and Iran raising concerns of a full-blown civil war.
*Editors note: The official death toll continues to climb, at the time of initial publishing the total was claimed by Egypt government to be 235, we will do our best to update the number in this article as the toll rises.
The Quo Vadimus:
The violence in Egypt has been expected for days, but the scale has shocked the world and will have long-term repercussions for the nation, the region and the world.
The buildup to today’s violence
Violence has been coming to Egypt’s streets for the last week.
Almost 300 people had died in the month after the July 3rd overthrow of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi.
To see the death toll of the last six weeks matched (or vastly exceeded, depending on which death toll you believe), is shocking.
In the violence since Mursi’s fall, the highest single-day death toll was near 90. That event shocked the nation into foreign brokered mediation talks.
This action was delayed as the nation’s Islamic authority, the Al-Azhar mosque, tried to broker new talks between the government and the Muslim Brotherhood.
These talks were always a long shot.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s unrealistic conditions that Mursi be reinstated with full constitutional authority (meaning no new elections), basically guaranteed they would never happen.
But despite the military government’s threats against protesters many still believed a solution would be worked out.
And while violence was expected, it was hoped to be limited while the elusive solution was found.
Why did the military act so strongly today?
Debates on why Egypt’s military moved on protestors -even with foreign leaders screaming for them to not- will be had for a long time.
For me, the tipping point seems to have been the violence on Tuesday.
Tuesday’s violence only killed one person, but the worrying aspect was how it started.
Civilians opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood confronted them in front of the interior ministry and began fighting.
Looking through the military government’s eyes, they may have seen civilians not only protesting, but taking the conflict into their own hands.
It can be argued that the military’s actions was as much to crack down on the Muslim Brotherhood as it was to prevent other citizens engaging in open street warfare against the Islamist protestors.
The interim Prime Minister’s statement that the situation had reached an unacceptable point is self-serving, but looking at it from this view, that statement could show what they were truly afraid of: open street warfare between opposing civilian groups.
August 14th violence
If the military government was hoping to avoid street warfare between Pro and Anti-Mursi civilian factions, the tragedy is they gave the nation just that, by taking the fight to the Muslim Brotherhood.
The violence that killed somewhere between 190 and 2,000 civilians, was street warfare.
After the military moved in with armored vehicles, guns and bulldozers, it became a battle.
Live footage on pro-Mursi television and state media clearly showed the Muslim Brotherhood attacking police.
The differences in the representations were the scale of the attack, and what the protesters were armed with (rocks vs. automatic weapons).
In reality that debate is semantics; the protesters clearly attacked police and killed a number of them (example- throwing a police van off a bridge and beating their dead bodies is not “peaceful”).
And on the other side, the police used automatic weapons with live rounds that killed many and wounded thousands.
These actions are in direct contradiction to the military government’s line that the police were ordered not to use weapons against protestors.
Who should we blame?
Is it possible to simply say everyone?
There is no one completely innocent in the violence in Egypt, and there is no one that is totally to blame.
The military government’s political stubbornness The EU envoy is claiming they had a deal worked out that the Muslim Brotherhood had fully signed up to.
If this is really true, then at least in part, the Military’s unwillingness to work with the Muslim Brotherhood meant this bloodshed was inevitable for them.
The Muslim Brotherhood- Since before the fall of Mursi, stories and images have emerged showing the Islamist group training ground troops and preparing for street battles.
Sources on the ground tell me that after the government made it clear they would clear protest sit-ins, that Brotherhood leaders threatened reprisals against anyone that left the sit-ins.
The Islamist party clearly wanted the death toll to be high and shocking –even preparing children to be martyrs.
They actively encouraged children to be on/near the front lines (there is no other explanation for setting up a children’s art show in the middle of a protest).
Even if you agree with Muslim Brotherhood’s anger over Mursi’s overthrow, everyone should be condemning their willingness to put innocents on the front lines of a long anticipated clash.
The Military- Shooting your own civilians should always be seen as a crime.
If you’re the US clearing Occupy Wall Street protesters with pepper spray or China clearing students from Tiananmen Square, the military will-and should-always be blamed for excess use of force.
Egypt’s military and police bear the burden of pulling the trigger, throwing the tear gas, or beating people to death.
Even if they can prove they were justified in some way, they are still to be blamed.
Extremists and those attacking Coptics- Islamist groups that the muslim brotherhood claim no control over have been committing violent acts in the Sinai and are being blamed for attacks on Coptic churches.
The longstanding security situation in the Sinai may be unconnected to the current violence, but the attacks on Coptics must be blamed on extremists.
There is no excuse for attacking Coptic Christians.
The belief that they support the military and can thus be blamed for this is put forward by hate spewing clerics interested only in the domination of Islam.
A true tragedy in a day full of them, is the violence and destruction wreaked on Egypt’s Christian minority with literally no justification.
The Voters of Egypt
Egyptian voters brought themselves this mess. They elected (barely) Mursi over a high ranking Mubarak official.
You can say they didn’t have a choice, it was “Mubarak or Muslim Brotherhood”, but the voters brought a leader who was so outrageous to a good portion of the country, that he was overthrown with a huge amount of public support.
Now that the public has overthrown two autocratic rulers, they have to figure out a way to move forward and put their vote towards someone they can really trust.
While I include voters on this list, the voters are only in this position because politicians failed to present a credible alternative.
In the chaos and joy of the immediately post Mubarak era, liberal politicians failed to unite behind a strong Presidential candidate or even campaign effectively during parliamentary elections.
This left the field with the Muslim Brotherhood and former Mubarak officials.
Mohamed ElBaradei claims the moral authority of liberal thinkers, but his failure to build widespread support shows his aspirations are based on personal want rather than public acclaim (see below for more on him).
A national leader that truly balances personal power with the broad desire of the people must emerge, and so far, Egypt’s politicians have failed to produce anyone remotely like that.Foreign politicians- e.g. John McCain- going to Egypt for no apparent reason he met with the military leaders and walked 100 steps to declare their actions a “coup” to the media.
This action sunk international mediation that the EU is claiming was on the brink of a break through.
It should be noted that Twitter was alive with accusations against regional politicians encouraging the violence, including: Iran, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, etc.
The United States- a potent focus of anger for the Muslim Brotherhood, secularists and even the military.
The problem with the blame targeting the US, is that each party is blaming the nation for supporting their opponent.
Simple logic tells us the US couldn’t have been behind all the parties.
Though logic doesn’t stop Egyptians and Americans alike pointing the finger at America each time there is a new twist in the tragic saga of the last two years.
Fact- The US expressed concern over Mubarak’s response to protests, but eventually stood (awkwardly) with the protestors and military that pushed him from power.
Fact- The US prefers the Military to the Muslim Brotherhood, though when the Muslim Brotherhood took over, the US tried to work with them.
Fact-When the military pushed out Mursi, the US expressed concern and urged restraint, but worked with the Military after it was done.
Fact- The US tried to mediate peace between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military and has urged al Sisi to respect democratic “values” and restore the rule of law.
So looking back, the US has supported every side in this conflict and has pragmatically tried to work with whoever came out on top.
This can be seen as cold and even immoral, but at its core it is a realist approach to the situation and really the only option open to the US.
In short-its everyone
This list can go on, but it eventually becomes a litany of complaints against everyone and anyone in Egypt.
The simple truth is-everyone is to blame.
El Baradei resigns
The resignation of Vice President ElBaradei’s is a political event that must be focused on even as the body count rises in the streets.
Cutting and running in the middle of a national crisis should earn this man nothing but contempt.
He claims his resignation shows his disgust and disagreement with the day’s actions, but his actions and words tell a different story.
ElBaradei has wanted to be President since before Mubarak fell. He is touted as the statesman the nation needs by everyone it seems except Egyptians.
He failed to gain much support in the election that gave Mursi the Presidency, and he failed to coordinate liberals in any meaningful way for the parliamentary elections.
He embraced the Military overthrow of Mursi hoping to be named President.
When this failed, he took a fancy title (focusing on external relations), disappeared from public view and seems to have done little to work with Muslim Brotherhood leaders to end the sit-in standoff.
Perhaps he couldn’t have ended the standoff. And perhaps, behind the scenes he truly was calling for restraint. But his resignation smacks of politicking in the middle of a crisis.
He is trying to distance himself from the military government’s actions after seeming to do nothing to stop them.
His motivation seems to be the hope that the nation will call on him as a “compromise” candidate.
This will never happen.
The Salafist Al Nour party already blocked him once for President.
The Muslim Brotherhood will never trust him.
The Military just saw him publicly piss on them and run.
And, most importantly, the people should never take him seriously again.
Impact and reaction to the violence
International leaders and commentators are already trying to predict the impact of the violence.
Turkey is calling for UN action. This idea is bold, but will never happen. If the UN can’t act on Syria, they won’t magically find unity on Egypt.
Iran is predicting a civil war. This probably won’t happen. Unrest will continue, but today seemed to push the military and police to their limits and they survived.
Unless a full blown armed insurgency springs up (highly unlikely as it would once again alienate the public from the Muslim Brotherhood), the police will maintain enough order to prevent a true civil war.
The US considering aid and military exercise- The US should (and most likely will) cancel the upcoming military exercise with Egypt.
The exercise has been a bi-annual cornerstone in the post Camp David Accords relationship, but it was cancelled in 2011 because of unrest surrounding Mubarak, and it should be again now.
The aid is a lot more complicated. The 1.3 billion the US government gives to the military is part of the peace deal with Israel.
The US government has withheld civilian aid, but it will probably continue this military aid, even if they look foolish and cruel doing it.
Protecting the relationship with Israel is paramount, and, they will claim, keeping the lines of communication open to the military is useful.
International commentators- are trying to find the most pointed prose to describe the violence and the strongest words to encourage isolating Egypt.
These comments are short sighted, playing to the crowd, and will be backtracked without note by almost every single one of them when they remember the alternative to the military government is the Islamist leadership they railed against the last year.
Legacy of the violence
A writer at The Guardian already took the most apt historical comparison to the day’s violence- Tiananmen Square.
Today’s action will haunt the military and the civilians involved in the current government for the foreseeable future.
This will only change if the violence gets worse.
The hope is Wednesday’s violence is the high water mark for deaths in Egypt.
Egypt has shown that violence usually sparks some sort of deal making-but the scale of this incident, and the personal connection the Muslim Brotherhood feels to the dead (example: a party leader’s 17 year old daughter was killed), may mean the move towards a deal takes much longer.
The Muslim Brotherhood will call for more protests, marchers will fill the street,s and the military government will nervously strike back.
The August 14 violence and actions should limit the future death toll as some protestors will be too afraid to take to the streets and rallying points like Nahda and Rabaa no longer exist.
There will be more death and violence, but it will be less, and less widespread, than Wednesday’s violence.
A true solution and end to the unrest is much farther off.
This article has been put together with reporting (The Status Quo) and the views of (The Quo Vadimus) of Brandon Blackburn-Dwyer, BrandonBD@QuoVadimusNews.Com, @Brandon_BD (On Twitter and Weibo).