Secretary of State John Kerry provided the administration's most thorough response so far to Wednesday's bloodshed in Egypt. The clashes, the result of the military's violent crackdown on pro-Morsi protesters, killed at least 278 and injured 2,000, by the military's count, and the country is now under emergency law for one month, reminding many of the decades the country spent under emergency law during the reign of Hosni Mubarak. For weeks, the U.S. has stepped up the strength of language in its response to the Egypt crisis, but it doesn't look like its ready to put on the table the $1 billion in annual aid the U.S. gives to Egypt, at least not yet. Instead, the U.S., via Kerry, "strongly condemns" the violence in the country. The issue of aid is under "review." Some, however, are wondering what the U.S. could possibly be waiting for.
Kerry's remarks focused on "constructive" interventions from the U.S., which is pretty similar to the administration's earlier efforts to quietly promote a transition to democracy in the wake of the latest unrest:
The United States strongly supports the Egyptian people's hope for a prompt and sustainable transition to an inclusive, tolerant, civilian-led democracy. Deputy Secretary of State Burns, together with our EU colleagues, provided constructive ideas and left them on the table during our talks in Cairo last week. From my many phone calls with many Egyptians, I believe they know full well what a constructive process would look like. The interim government and the military, which together possess the preponderance of power in this confrontation, have a unique responsibility to prevent further violence and to offer constructive options for an inclusive, peaceful process across the entire political spectrum. This includes amending the constitution, holding parliamentary and presidential elections, which the interim government itself has called for.
(Kerry was effectively speaking for Obama today — the president is on vacation)
But the deaths today represent an escalation by the military in their crackdown on the former Muslim Brotherhood government majority. So the U.S. is thinking about another possible rebuke towards the country:
Breaking: U.S. considers scrapping military exercises with Egypt after crackdown. http://t.co/tYCeELTJqc— Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) August 14, 2013
Those exercises are the Bright Star exercises planned for next month, and it would be the second military penalty to the country since the uprising — the U.S. previously halted the delivery of four F-16 aircraft. An unnamed official told CNN that "The situation in Egypt is prompting these discussions about how to proceed." But criticism of the U.S.'s stance on Egypt remains, for many, focused on aid. Marc Lynch at Foreign Policy, for example, argued that the U.S. should immediately suspend aid and shutter its embassy in Cairo. Lynch writes:
The hard truth is that the United States has no real influence to lose right now anyway, and immediate impact isn't the point. Taking a (much belated) stand is the only way for the United States to regain any credibility -- with Cairo, with the region, and with its own tattered democratic rhetoric.
Similarly, Human Rights First argues that the U.S. should make its aid conditional on a transition to an elected government in Egypt, citing failed diplomatic efforts to move the country away from the interim government of the military. At Businessweek, Romesh Ratnesar said that the U.S.'s refusal to cut off aid means that the U.S. is "effectively propping up a regime "that openly disdains basic democratic principles and human rights." Ali Gharib at The Daily Beast wrote that "America funds an army that today carried out a massacre of its own citizens." Meanwhile, Amy Davidson at The New Yorker synthesizes the series of questions from today's pairing of U.S. rhetoric and Egypt's military crackdown:
Every side blames the United States for something—talking to Morsi, abandoning Morsi, being too involved or abdicating. But the Egyptian military is the one most responsible for staging a battle on the streets of Cairo today. It is also the one funded, in part, by a billion dollars in American aid every year. Does that money get us a hearing? And does Obama even know what, specifically, he would ask for?
The issue of Egypt's aid has come up before: while Egypt's military overthrow of a democratically-elected president had the backing of a popular uprising, the outline of the events still looks quite a lot like a coup to many. And the Foreign Assistance Act requires the U.S. to cut aid to any country whose elected leadership is overthrown by military force. But the U.S. decided not to decide whether to call it a "coup" or not at all, leaving the door to aid to Egypt propped securely open. The U.S.'s stance on the issue was confused a bit during Lindsey Graham and John McCain's (unsuccessful) trip earlier this month to fix the Egypt crisis on behalf of the Obama administration, when Senator McCain referred to the overthrow as a "coup." That confusion, Jonathan Tepperman argued in the New York Times, has resulted in a situation where "all sides in Egypt now hate the United States, which they’re convinced backs their enemies."
Today's events were not without consequential political action from those condemning the military violence: it prompted the resignation of Egypt's interim Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Prize winner. In a statement, the official said, "It has become difficult for me to hold responsibility for decisions that I do not agree with, whose consequences I fear." He added, "I cannot be responsible for one drop of blood in front of God, and then in front of my conscience, especially with my faith that we could have avoided it."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.