International Affairs — 21 August 2013
The Egyptian Military’s Massacres and the U.S. Government’s High ‘Threshold’ for Violence

Jeremy R. Hammond

On Wednesday, August 14, the Egyptian military perpetrated its third massacre of protesters since it overthrew the democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi in a coup d’etat. The attack occurred in Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adaweya  and Nahda squares, where demonstrators had been camped out for weeks to protest the coup. It was “a ferocious assault”, theNew York Times reported on Sunday, “that so far has killed more than 1,000 protesters”, “the worst political bloodletting in modern Egyptian history”.

The massacre was expected. The commander of the Egyptian armed forces, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, claimed to have a “mandate” from supporters of the coup to crack down violently on its opponents, camped out in what the military dubbed hotbeds of “terrorism”, despite there being “no evidence that the Islamists had stockpiled large numbers of weapons inside the camp, as Egyptian state news media had said before the attack”, the Times reported as the military’s “scorched-earth assault” was underway.

U.S. policy virtually guaranteed that the military would follow through on its threat by sending the clear message to the generals that if they did engage in yet another murderous crackdown on protestors, the $1.5 billion expropriated from U.S. taxpayers to be given annually to the Egyptian military would continue unabated, despite it being in violation of the U.S.’s own law, which prohibits the U.S. government from financing any regime that has gained power through a coup.

The massacre was the Egyptian military’s answer to the U.S.’s assurances that the aid would continue, the Christian Science Monitor observed. Following the massacre, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, after having praised the military’s actions as “restoring democracy”, offered the hollow response to the latest massacre that the “path toward violence leads only to greater instability, economic disaster and suffering”. When Kerry called on General Sisi to end “as soon as possible” the declared state of emergency under which the military had assumed authority and implemented martial law, a senior official in Cairo understandably dismissed the U.S. position as “ridiculous”.

The White House issued a statement condemning “the use of violence against protesters” and reassuring that the U.S. had repeatedly urged the military against such actions—urgings rendered meaningless by the accompanying promises that if the generals chose to ignore the U.S.’s pleas, the money would continue to flow anyway. The White House extended its “condolences to the families of those who have been killed”—little comfort for the surviving loved ones of those slain by a military armed with U.S.-supplied hardware and acting with an effective green light from Washington, D.C.

Even after the massacre, the Obama administration continued to stand behind the generals. President Obama announced that the U.S. would cancel a joint exercise with the Egyptian armed forces, but refused to comply with U.S. law and cut off aid to the military. A headline in the Times neatly summed up the situation: “U.S. Condemns Crackdown but Announces No Policy Shift”, as did the title of a post in the Foreign Policy blog The Cable: “Obama Keeps Cash to Egypt Flowing, Despite The Military Crackdown”.

Senator John McCain offered the comment on Twitter, “As we predicted and feared, chaos in #Cairo. Sec Kerry praising the military takeover didn’t help”. McCain’s criticism of Kerry is certainly warranted, but extremely hypocritical considering who it was coming from. A week before, McCain had urged his fellow Senators to vote against legislation introduced by Senator Rand Paul to suspend aid to Egypt until free and fair elections were held, in accordance with already existing U.S. law. “It would be a terrific mistake for the United States to send a message to Egypt: you’re on your own”, he said, referring to the military establishment euphemistically as “Egypt”. The vote on Mr. Paul’s legislation, which was rejected by an overwhelming 86 to 13 votes, was itself a clear message to the Egyptian military that the U.S. would have its back if it continued its violent assaults on protesters.

When the “chaos” occurred that McCain admittedly predicted would happen given the U.S.’s policy, which he staunchly supported, Senator Paul appropriately criticized those who voted against his measure. “This is something that those who voted in Congress are going to have to live with,” he said. “The question is: How does their conscience feel now as they see photographs of tanks rolling over Egyptian civilians?”

McCain himself acknowledged, “We bear a large amount of responsibility for the bloodletting that’s taking place”, and he seemed to slightly change his tune by suggesting that the U.S. might use its influence at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to deny loans to Egypt. But this, too, must be little condolence to Egyptians who have lost loved ones, coming from the same senator who had traveled to Egypt just two days after the coup to deliver the message, along with Senator Lindsey Graham, that they “want to keep the aid flowing to Egypt”.

Just as McCain admitted that he had predicted the consequence the policy he supported would lead to, Graham acknowledged that he “could tell” during his visit that the generals “were itching for a fight”. He described General Sisi as “a little bit intoxicated by power.” The two senators left, the New York Timesreported, “convinced that a violent showdown was looming.” Having such foreknowledge of the murderous consequences wasn’t enough to convince the senators not to fight “to keep the aid flowing”, however.

The Times also perceived how “The generals in Cairo felt free to ignore the Americans”, since “in a cold-eyed calculation”, they deduced “that they would not pay a significant cost—a conclusion bolstered when President Obama responded by canceling a joint military exercise but not $1.5 billion in annual aid.” While “the administration has decided to keep the close relationship with the Egyptian military fundamentally unchanged”, the Times candidly noted, “the death toll is climbing, the streets are descending into chaos, and the government and the Islamists are vowing to escalate.”

Less candidly, the Times stated that Obama “skirted the aid law by refusing to determine whether Mr. Morsi’s ouster constituted a coup”. Americans are supposed to believe that by simply not issuing an official declaration that a coup had occurred, the administration may legally continue the aid, which is patently false. Obama hasn’t “skirted” the law, he has violated it, both in letter and in spirit, Orwellian newspeak to the contrary notwithstanding—just one more impeachable offense to add to Obama’s list.

The Times has acted in its usual role of manufacturing consent for U.S. government policy not only by employing newspeak to obfuscate its criminality, but also by openly announcing its support for the status quo. After the second massacre late last month against protesters of the military’s coup, the Times editors weighed in that “American military aid to Egypt should not be cut off”, the fact that U.S. law requires it to be notwithstanding.

The Times concluded a recent piece on the situation in Egypt by quoting an American military officer saying, “The million-dollar question now is: where is the threshold of violence for cutting ties?”

The answer to that question remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: the U.S. government’s “threshold” for violence is very high indeed.


This article was originally published on Foreign Policy Journal

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