President Obama treads carefully in word and deed as Egypt descends into renewed chaos

Even US military aid  is not irreplaceable –  oil-rich Gulf states are only too happy to step in

Share
Related Topics

As Egypt teetered on the brink of civil war, President Barack Obama condemned the savage crackdown on protesters, and cancelled joint military exercises scheduled for next month. But he stopped short of halting US military aid to Cairo, and laid part of the blame for the bloody confrontation on the former Islamic government of the ousted Mohammed Morsi.

In his first remarks since the forceable clearance of camps of Morsi supporters, Mr Obama struck a deliberately cautious and even-handed tone, for fear of further inflaming a crisis that could destroy the last vestiges of stability in the Middle East. Indeed, his words only underscored the virtual powerlessness of outsiders to influence events.

“America cannot determine the future of Egypt,” he declared, stressing that “we don’t take sides with any party or political figure”. America had been blamed by both sides, the US president noted, but “that approach will not help”. Egyptians themselves “are going to have to do the work”. Mr Obama urged an end to the state of emergency and steps towards national reconciliation. But, he warned, “change takes time, and a process like this is never guaranteed.”

In his condemnation of the bloodshed, Mr Obama’s language mirrored those of almost every other Western leader. But they also reflected Washington’s special dilemma of how to deal with the turmoil convulsing the key Arab ally, whose 30-year-old peace treaty with Israel remains a key to regional stability.

The only immediate step he announced was the scrapping of the annual ‘Bright Star’ US-Egyptian military exercises in the Sinai. That would be followed by a detailed assessment of the situation in Egypt by his national security team, which would determine “further steps as necessary”.

More significantly, however, he refused to go along with calls from Congress and elsewhere for an immediate end to the $1.3bn of military assistance.

There is a strong possibility that Egypt may deteriorate into further violence – much worse than that which took place on Wednesday. The US may be worried that if it were to cut off aid now, it would be left with little influence.

Today, on the resort island of Martha’s Vineyard where the Obamas are taking a short summer holiday, the president refused to call the Egyptian army’s overthrow of Mr Morsi a coup – which would have triggered suspension of the aid – and spoke merely of “intervention”.

Moreover, while deploring the brutal methods of the military-backed regime for its brutal methods, he had criticism for the former Morsi government, which he said had not been inclusive, and whose departure had been sought by “millions” of Egyptians. He also demanded an end to reprisal attacks by Morsi supporters on churches of the country’s Coptic Christian minority.

But however carefully the US treads, the grim and near-unanimous assessment here is that the crisis is likely to get worse, with even more lives lost, before it gets better. The repercussions too are likely to reach far. Not only does Egypt’s de facto return to the old days of military rule sound a knell for hopes raised by the ‘Arab Spring’ of 2011, it could also harden Islamic extremism across the Middle East. Having seen a government considered moderate by Islamic standards overthrown in the most populous Arab country, radicals in other countries will conclude the only way forward lies outside the existing political system, many analysts believe.

Separately, with its southern neighbour in chaos and Syria to the north in the grip of civil war, Israel may be even less inclined to make concessions in the new round of peace talks with Palestinians that have just begun in Jerusalem.

Even US military aid is not irreplaceable. Conservative oil-rich Gulf states, only too happy to see a setback for the Islamist movement that threatens their own legitimacy, have already pledged far larger financial support.

Meanwhile Navi Pillay, the top United Nations human rights official, has demanded an independent, impartial inquiry into what happened. “The number of people killed or injured, even according to the government’s figures, point to an excessive, even extreme, use of force against demonstrators,” she said. Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was even blunter, describing the events as a “very serious massacre”.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Commercial Litigation

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION SO...

BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Day In a Page

 

Opponents of Israel's military operation in Gaza are the real enemies of Middle Eastern peace

Gabriel Sassoon
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride