Back Egypt’s Military

Supporters of General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Tahrir Square.



This week, the Egyptian government evicted Muslim Brotherhood members from encampments they set up in Cairo and elsewhere when the popular, military-backed uprising removed their leader, Mohamed Morsi, from power in late June. The government had ordered them multiple times to leave the “sit-ins,” camps where they had children to put in the military’s line of fire and ammunition and weapons to shoot back. The Brothers refused to budge or engage in political negotiations, insisting on nothing less than Morsi’s full restoration to the presidency. They wanted martyrs and, sadly, they got them — in the hundreds, though not without taking at least 43 Egyptian policemen with them.

But the military’s horrific violence yesterday does not alter the U.S.’s calculus. The Muslim Brotherhood and the military government are now at war, and the latter remains the best hope for securing American interests and, ultimately, a free Egypt. We should therefore continue our financial and matériel support for the Egyptian military and maintain as close a relationship as possible to push the government toward our objectives.

Secretary Kerry’s proclamation two weeks ago that the army’s seizure of power was “restoring democracy” may sound silly on its face, but it contained an important truth: The security-seeking military is a better bet for Egypt’s long-term prospects of pluralism than are anti-democratic Islamists.

This much was clear when, following their eviction, armed Islamist mobs eschewed any kind of peaceful resistance and chose to attack Coptic churches across Egypt, burning more than a dozen to the ground and assaulting the worshipers — even before they turned to burning down government buildings as they did Wednesday. President Obama rightly said that such behavior is unacceptable but did not extend the logic — that any group that responds in such a deliberately destructive way against an innocent, defenseless minority has no role in Egypt’s future or a free society. The perilous state of the Middle East’s largest religious minority is a good bellwether for whether progress is being made in Egyptian society, and the U.S. and the European Union should make the Copts’ treatment a priority.

After the Brotherhood, as the only organized political force in Egyptian society outside Mubarak’s pharaonic state, won Egypt’s first free parliamentary elections, support for the group has steadily eroded, to the point where no more than one-third of Egyptians at the time of the popular coup this summer supported Morsi’s government.

Now is not the time, therefore, to cut off support for their main adversary, the military and the current government — especially since doing so would reinforce the powerful, harmful impression of sympathy for the Brotherhood.

The United States has three key security interests in Egypt: free passage through the Suez Canal; the suppression of Islamist insurgents throughout the country, especially the Sinai; and, most important, maintenance of the peace treaty with Israel. The military has always been an acceptable guarantor of those objectives, and any government led by the Muslim Brotherhood would not be, out of incompetence and hostility.

The United States’ leverage is limited — much of the resources necessary to keep Egypt afloat have and will come from the Gulf and Saudi Arabia — but we can use our relationship with the military to urge them to allow the development of civil society and the writing of a constitution that respects minority rights and free expression. The fever of the Arab Spring gave Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood their chance to attempt such a project, and they had no interest in it.

Standing by the military is the best of our bad options in Egypt. Any other decision would empower the fiercest enemies of a free society and put our interests at risk.

Crackdown in Cairo
DAY OF RAGE: After last week's crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood encampments in Cairo, supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi gathered in Ramses square in Cairo on Aug. 16 for a huge protest deemed the "Day of Rage."
Crowds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters gather in Ramses Square in Cairo.
Muslim Brotherhood supporters carry an injured colleague during clashes at Ramses Square.
Muslim Brotherhood supporters march towards Old Cairo with the coffin of a colleague killed during Wednesday's clashes.
A car burns near Ramses Square.
A skull flag flies during clashes near Ramses Square
"Day of Rage" protests were held in cities across Egypt. Pictured, Morsi loyalists raise up posters of the former president during a march in Alexandria.
MOSQUE CONFRONTATION: A group of Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters took shelter inside Cairo's al-Fath mosque near Ramses Square.
Muslim Brotherhood supporters clash with police near Ramses square in Cairo on Aug. 16.
Civilians run for cover as Muslim Brotherhood supports exchange gunfire with government forces.
Muslim Brotherhood during clashes outside Al-Fath mosque.
Muslim Brotherhood supporters holed inside the al-Fath mosque negotiation with security forces from a behind a barricade.
Riot police move into the al-Fath mosque, ending the stand-off with Muslim Brotherhood members holed up inside.
Army soldiers inside the al-Fath mosque.
Army soldiers inside the al-Fath mosque.
Police guard the gate of the al-Fath mosque.
Supporters of the interim government talk with police outside the mosque.
Supporters of the interim government taunt members of the Muslim Brotherhood inside the al-Fath mosque.
Muslim Brotherhood supporters voluntarily leave the al-Fath escorted by security personnel.
A large crowd jeers and threatens Muslim Brotherhood members as they are escorted out of the al-Fath mosque by security forces.
An Egyptian man mourns over the bodies of relatives in the al-Fath mosque.
Wreckage and debris litter the area around the Al-Fath mosque after the confrontation.
VIOLENCE ENGULFS EGYPT: The stand-off between the Egyptian military and Muslim Brotherhood supporters that followed last month’s coup in Egypt erupted in violence on August 14, when government security forces moved in to eject supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi from encampments in Cairo.
The escalation of violence highlights concern about the stability of the largest nation in the Arab world, barely a month after the removal of its first democratically-elected president, and stoked fears of continuing unrest among supporters of the former regime.
Supporters of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood party had protested the military takeover since Morsi’s ouster. They fought with homemade weapons as police and army units using bulldozers and armored vehicles moved in to camps set up near the Rabaa Al-Adawiya mosque.
Several protest camps were completely destroyed in the fighting, and other government buildings were heavily damaged. The Rabaa mosque itself (pictured) was also heavily damaged. The military later vowed to rebuild the historic site.
By Thursday, the official death toll was reported at more than 600, including 43 police officers, with more than 3,700 injured. On Thursday, the government authorized deadly force to protect personnel and property.
On Thursday, the interim military government announced a new month-long state of emergency. Earlier in the week, acting vice president Mohamed El Baradei has resigned his office because of the violence.
Riot police and army soldiers moved in force on August 14.
Fighting between government forces and Muslim Brotherhood supporters quickly escalated in Rabaa Adawiya square.
A riot police armored vehicle navigates the smoking remains of the encampment.
Fires engulfed the camp and nearby buildings.
Bulldozers were used to take down the temporary camp structures.
A defiant Egyptian woman attempts to halt a bulldozer’s advance.
A protester comforts a wounded colleague.
Hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters were injured and killed in the assault.
Fighting continued even as the camp site went up in flames.
Defiant Muslim Brotherhood members stood their ground.
Protestors throw rocks from amid the ruins of the Rabba encampment.
Army soldiers move in finish clearing the camp.
Soldiers carried wounded protestors and arrested scores of others.
The fighting also spilled out on to nearby roadways.
Protesters topple a government vehicle over a highway overpass. The driver was pulled from the vehicle and stripped of his gear.
Protesters pushed over another government vehicle.
More armored vehicles stand by as the Rabba camp burns.
Egyptian security forces members hold copies of the Koran during the operation.
Some of the many protesters arrested during the siege.
THE AFTERMATH: Hundreds of protesters were killed in the fighting, and the death toll seems likely to rise. Pictured, a protester mourns over the bodies of some of those killed.
A woman reacts after identifying a dead family member at the Rabaa al-Adaweya Medical Center.
A father grieves outside a makeshift morgue after seeing the body of his son, who was killed in the fighting.
Emotions rise in a woman as she sees some of the victims of the day’s clashes.
Wounded protesters wait for medical attention in the Rabaa al-Adaweya Medical Center.
Smoke rises from a gas station badly damaged in nearby fighting.
Posters of Mohammed Morsi remain amid the ruins of one of the caps.
A Morsi supporter tries to put out a fire at an encampment near Cairo University.
A military police officer walks through the remains of the camp outside the Rabaa Adawiya mosque.
Egyptian army officers tour the smoldering ruins of the larger protest camp.
A banner of Mohammed Morsi hangs from a nearby government building damaged during the fighting.
A line of burnt vehicles near the Rabaa camp.
Surveying the extensive damage inside the Rabaa Adawiya mosque.
Updated: Mar. 01, 2014