Posted by on October 11, 2013 in Blog

By Maha Sayed
Legal Fellow

In response to the Egyptian military’s recent crackdown of supporters of the ousted president, Mohamed Morsi, the Obama Administration on Wednesday announced a temporary suspension of military assistance to Egypt. Although the administration emphasized that the freeze would be temporary and continually reviewed to maintain the longstanding U.S. partnership with Egypt, officials said that Washington would withhold the delivery of certain large-scale military systems and cash assistance to the government “pending credible progress toward an inclusive, democratically elected civilian government through free and fair elections.”

On October 6, while thousands of Egyptians celebrated the 40th anniversary of the 1973 war with Israel (‘Armed Forces Day’) in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, at least 55 people were killed and more than 250 were injured in anti-coup demonstrations across the country. The festive atmosphere in Tahrir Square, as supporters of the military-backed government commemorated Armed Forces Day with music and fireworks, stood in stark contrast to the simultaneous violent crackdown of Islamists and anti-coup protesters across Egypt. The government began its crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters following the military’s ouster of President Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected leader, on July 3. According to a comprehensive opinion poll conducted by Zogby Research Services (ZRS) between April 4 and May 12, 2013, more than 70% of Egyptians were dissatisfied with Morsi’s policies and performance during his first year in office. However, the troubling events on Armed Forces Day not only highlight Egypt’s intensifying political divides, but further reveal the military-backed government’s continued willingness to marginalize and violently repress pro-Morsi and anti-coup protesters. In an effort to crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood since Morsi’s ouster, Egyptian authorities have arrested hundreds of its members, killed hundreds of the group’s supporters, and endorsed a court decision that banned the Muslim Brotherhood and froze its leaders’ assets.

For the first time since Morsi’s ouster, anti-coup groups called for demonstrations in Tahrir Square on October 6 to commemorate the anniversary of the 1973 war and attempt to unify anti-coup protesters in the location viewed as the symbol of Egypt’s 2011 democratic uprisings. The call for anti-coup demonstrations at Tahrir Square was also particularly significant because Tahrir has become the center of the anti-Morsi movement.  However, the military-backed government responded by calling for its own commemoration of Armed Forces Day in Tahrir, and interim President Adly Mansour urged all Egyptians to gather “in every district, street and square of Egypt” to celebrate Armed Forces Day and support the army.

As supporters of the military-backed government gathered to celebrate Sunday, they remained insulated from clashes that took place in several neighborhoods throughout Cairo and across the country. Anti-coup protesters were unable to reach Tahrir Square, as security forces blocked their path and dispersed crowds by firing tear gas and using batons to beat and detain protesters. At least 55 protesters were killed in clashes on Sunday, many shot in the head and chest, in what is the highest death toll in a single day since mid-August, when security forces raided two major camps of pro-Morsi and anti-coup protesters in Cairo.

Paralleling the polarizing nature of Egypt’s current political climate, Egyptian Americans with opposing views also gathered on Sunday to commemorate Armed Forces Day in front of the Egyptian Defense Office in Washington, D.C. While pro-military groups rallied in support of the current interim-government, anti-coup protesters expressed their discontent over the military’s ouster of the first democratically elected president and bloody crackdown of anti-coup protesters. But unlike in Egypt, the opposing protests here took place without violence.

The military ouster of Egypt’s first freely elected civilian president and the subsequent campaign to repress the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters undermines the fundamental objectives of Egypt’s 2011 popular uprising, which was intended to begin a transition to democratic government based upon respect for the rule of law and individuals’ essential rights and liberties. By continuing to alienate and brutally suppress pro-Morsi and anti-coup protesters, the military-backed government has repeatedly demonstrated its failure to these uphold the basic principles necessary for genuine democratic transition. Paradoxically, the military-backed government appears to be implementing the same authoritarian policies that Egyptians accused former President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood of adopting, which led to their eventual ouster on July 3.

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