WASHINGTON, July 25, 2013 (AFP)
WASHINGTON, July 25, 2013 (AFP)
Western nations are watching the crisis in Egypt with growing unease, fearing the military’s vow to return the nation to democracy may be little more than a fig leaf to mask a prolonged power grab.
The United States has refused to term the army’s July 3 ouster of the elected president, Mohamed Morsi, as a coup, which would trigger an automatic freeze of some $1.5 billion in aid.
But it did finally send the interim leaders a veiled warning on Wednesday by suspending the delivery of four promised F-16 fighter jets.
Britain also announced last week it was revoking export licences for equipment used by the military and police, over concerns it could be turned on demonstrators, and has called for “actions and gestures from both sides that will assist in taking the political process forward.”
Egypt’s interim leaders have laid out a roadmap for a new constitution ahead of new elections, but there are conflicting views about whether they will keep that pledge and how inclusive the process will be.
Such concerns were further fuelled when military chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called for rallies on Friday to give him a mandate to crack down on “terrorism and violence” — a comment many perceived to be aimed at Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, which has been organizing mass street demonstrations.
“The reality is that Egypt is moving back to a more authoritarian system, with a political class operating under a military umbrella with a fairly high degree of repression against anyone dissenting,” David Butter, associate fellow at the British think-tank Chatham House, told AFP.
Long used to playing a dominant role in Egyptian political life, the army “is hiding itself behind a fig-leaf of constitutional civilian government,” he argued.
There has also been papable concern about the arrests of Muslim Brotherhood leaders and worries for the fate of Morsi who has not been seen in public for more than three weeks.
Furious at being stripped of office, the Islamist Brotherhood has ruled out any participation in talks to pave the way towards democracy.
Many fear the group could now go underground again, waging an insurgent battle as it did when it was outlawed under the rule of long-time strongman Hosni Mubarak.
“The interim government’s strategy clearly consists of politically sidelining the Muslim Brotherhood until the elections,” said German Middle East expert Michael Lueders.
“Neither of the sides is prepared to negotiate with the other.”
He voiced fears Friday’s rallies could explode into violence that could determine the nation’s direction, saying Sisi was “playing a dangerous game” given the deep polarization.
“The Muslim Brotherhood see themselves as martyrs, while their opponents say they have saved democracy,” Lueders said, adding Egypt lacked any political statesmen “with the courage to hold a hand out to the other side.”
Washington has also insisted the interim government must work towards new elections, while acknowledging it is faced with a complex and difficult situation.
“There are those within the rest of the region who would view what’s taken place in Egypt as a course correction,” said America’s former Middle East advisor Dennis Ross.
He pointed to some $12 billion in assistance already been pledged to Cairo’s interim leaders by Gulf allies, such as Saudi Arabia, to shore up what they see as a “popular uprising.”
But he stressed there was also a “different narrative” under which a “legitimately elected government” was ousted.
And despite the appointment of credible interim leaders, it remained clear “we have to recognize that the arbiter of events today are the military,” Ross told the Senate Foreign Relations committee on Thursday.
“We need more inclusivity,” State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf agreed.
“While we’ve seen some steps, they need to continue the process and, as soon as possible, get back to a democratically elected, sustainable democracy for their government. So we’re clearly not there yet. There’s much more work to do.”
Lawmakers on Thursday were debating the pros and cons of whether to maintain the $1.5 billion in economic and military assistance awarded annually to Cairo — with some experts arguing it gave the US unique leverage over Egypt as they predicted a period of great instability in the country.
“Let me be clear. Our support is not unconditional and unending,” warned Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the committee.
“The Egyptian military must show that they are committed to an inclusive political process, credible democratic elections and democratic governance.”