For the past three years Egypt has undergone massive political change. Despite startling accounts of violence, Western media has turned its eyes elsewhere.
Since the initial overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, the nation has been stricken with protests and strife between revolutionary groups. Mohammed Morsi’s election was relatively corruption-free, however, his affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organization, made many more secular Egyptians uneasy. Morsi further alienated large sections of the Egyptian populace after his election by drafting a new constitution based significantly on Shari’a law and failing to stabilize the flagging economy, sparking perhaps the largest protests Egypt had yet seen. With much of the public rallying against the new government, the military put their support behind the protestors and removed Morsi from office in a bloodless coup d’état on July 3, after which they installed a civilian, Adly Mansour, as interim president to oversee the establishment of a new constitution and free elections.
Since the new wave of governmental transformation, several questions have been raised regarding Egypt’s future path, primarily relating to the survival of democracy and the military’s role in governance. The military took the same actions that a year ago had brought real democracy to the nation, but this time it deposed a freely elected leader and removed most traces of his widely supported party from governance. While massive protests were launched against Morsi, counter-protests, often of near equal strength, are now being held by pro-Morsi and pro-Islamist loyalists. These protests continued through the summer in the face of increasingly violent military opposition, with security forces firing on protestors in two separate instances in July and the government issuing warrants for the arrests of members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
By the end of August, the military had violently cleared two major protestor camps, killing hundreds in the process and arresting the majority of Muslim Brotherhood leaders. The military proceeded to outlaw the Brotherhood group. Government violence has not stopped since then; the remnants of anti-government and Islamist protestors and organizations remained the targets of raids through early October, and casualties from street violence continue to mount.
Such crackdowns along with broader political repression have raised obvious questions about the military’s commitment to democracy. The international response to the new political wave has been mixed. The United States announced in late July and August that economic aid would continue to flow to Egypt, with US Secretary of State John Kerry stating that the military was “restoring democracy” through their actions, though condemning their early violence. Of course, the US has strong incentive to preserve ties with the Egyptian military, as the latter has often given the American military generous permission to act in and near the country. Despite this, the US has attempted to move further towards overt disapproval of the new regime and, on August 15, President Obama gave a speech in which he condemned the brutal crackdown on protestors.
Supporting the President’s rebuke, the US has now taken steps to halt economic aid to Egypt, though the roughly $1.3 billion that makes up the annual military aid was left largely intact. This last pillar of crucial support for the Egyptian government was weakened further, albeit only slightly, by the US when in early October American officials announced they would be withholding large deliveries of military hardware, as well as $260 million worth of direct aid. This announcement coincided with statements strongly rebuking the Egyptian government for their continued violence.
To date, a firm death count of the crackdown has not yet been established. The official government reports were relatively low and eventually stopped altogether. Other counts range from one to eight thousand, with higher numbers being reported by Egyptian opposition groups and international human rights associations. Across news sources, the general estimate is often quoted as thousands of deaths.
Regardless of the exact figure and of the significantly lower numbers of reported incidents and casualties in recent weeks, Egypt remains a turbulent place. Protests seem to have all but disappeared, likely a result of the mass killings in mid-August, but those that occur still invite violence.
The end of the crisis seems especially far from site when examining the political situation. Egypt’s military-backed government, which has yet to reestablish a constitution, still exists in a state of emergency, giving the military broad control, and there is little evidence of progress towards elections for a new, democratic government. Alarming to some, General Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, the defense minister and head of the armed forces responsible for deposing Morsi, has risen as the prime candidate for the presidency, with indications of relatively broad national support.
Although international attention has shifted away from Egypt, developments in the country have only grown more complicated. Media coverage in the US and worldwide, however, would do well to return to examining the crisis in Egypt and advocating for a solution. Continued instability in Egypt raises economic concerns both regionally and internationally, especially in regards to the Suez Canal, as well as the broader security and stability concerns in the Arab world. By overlooking Egypt, the international community fails to call the public’s attention to a critical moment in Egyptian, and, for that matter, in world history.