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An Impending Bloodbath in Egypt: Will It Break the Coup?

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Throughout the process of planning and executing the ouster of Morsi and the MB, the U.S. was fully in the loop. Even though the U.S. was not certain whether the coup plotters would be able to pull it off, it urged Morsi during the months of May and June to appoint ElBaradei as prime minister even though the latter was quietly plotting to oust him. During late June, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel called Gen. Sisi at least five times while the coup was in progress. Along with National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Hagel eventually gave his blessing provided that civilian rule is restored within a few months. Gen. Sisi promised his counterpart that stability and calm would be swiftly restored. The Obama administration struggled to give the coup its blessing in public as it was clear that such support would contradict a 1961 law that prohibited providing aid or the support of the overthrow of a democratically elected government. But with few exceptions such as Sen. Rand Paul, most lawmakers including Intelligence Committee Chairman Congressman Mike Rogers gave their blessings and supported the coup. Sen. Tim Kaine of the Foreign Relations Committee even exposed the role of the UAE and Jordanian ambassadors in lobbying congress on behalf of the military coup.

Meanwhile, the leaders of the military coup have become very nervous as they failed to stabilize the country or tame the opposition one month after the coup. Only five countries, all monarchies, have publicly declared their support of the coup. They are Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Jordan. Ironically, Tamarrod's founder Mahmoud Badr has reversed himself with regards to his assessment of Saudi Arabia. Last year he strongly criticized the authoritarian system of Saudi Arabia, yet after the coup he profusely thanked its rulers for their support.

It is not by coincidence that much of the support for the coup in the U.S. has come from the pro-Israel quarters. Israel has been mourning the loss of Mubarak ever since his ouster. It considered Mubarak its "strategic asset," which was demonstrated by Israel's chief of staffformer Israeli ambassador to Egypt, and Israel's enablers in the U.S. A retired pro-coup Egyptian general even argued that Morsi was toppled by the military for his strong support of Hamas in Gaza, which in his view threatened Egypt's national security. Thus, with the return of the military at the helm of the country, Israel and its supporters believe they could regain their strategic relationship.

The reaction to the coup by the West has been timid to say the least. Initially, the West was cautiously waiting to see if the military was able to restore stability and move forward on its declared political roadmap. But by the fifth week, it became apparent that the political scene was still in turmoil with a complete political stalemate as the anti-coup protesters have remained defiant and determined to restore democracy, and defend Morsi's legitimacy. The African Union has emphatically rejected the coup and suspended Egypt's membership in the AU until democratic rule is restored. Similarly, Turkey, South Africa, Tunisia, Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Indonesia strongly criticized the coup and called for reinstating the elected president.

Meanwhile, European Union foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton visited Egypt within days of the coup. She was told then that the country's stability would be restored within a short period of time. By the fifth week she again visited the country and demanded to see Morsi as his supporters filled the streets in their daily protests. In essence, Ashton sought a compromise that would incorporate the MB and their Islamist allies in a future political map. Europe could not look the other way as a dangerous and volatile situation continues to develop to its south. 

Uncharacteristically, she interrupted her press conference with ElBaradei and left abruptly after he rudely did not allow her to answer a question by a French reporter. The questioner asked whether Morsi would play any political role in the future, to which ElBaradei quickly answered with an emphatic no, without allowing Ashton to answer, at which point she withdrew from the press conference. In addition, much of Ashton's replies to the few questions she answered were mistranslated, thereby giving the audience the false impression that Europe had supported the coup. This sorry spectacle was a diplomatic disaster for ElBaradei and the coup leaders. But on August 1, the U.S. came to their rescue as Secretary of State John Kerry defended the military takeover in Egypt during his visit to Pakistan.

Possible Imminent Scenarios: Is a bloodbath around the corner?

It appears that everyone was passing the buck. Gen. Sisi asked the public on July 24 to give him a mandate through mass protests to crackdown on "violence and terrorism." On July 27, military spokesperson Col. Muhammad Ahmad Ali declared that the mandate has been received. But in the days since the military has actually withdrawn from most of the areas surrounding the protesters. Military and political experts have been warning that the possible involvement of the army in killing the protesters might undermine not only the institutions of the state, but also unravel the army itself. By July 30, the interim president then gave Prime Minister Beblawi a mandate to declare a state of emergency and crackdown on the protesters who refuse to disband. Yet on August 1, Beblawi's cabinet transferred that authority to Interior Minister Gen. Ibrahim, whose ministry immediately issued a stern warning to all protesters to disband or otherwise face a certain ending to their sit-ins and possible death. The protesters categorically rejected this unambiguous threat, and even dared the police to attack vowing not to resist while protesting peacefully.

But the decision to reject the offer of safe passage should not be surprising. In 1954, there was a similar standoff between the army and the MB. After weeks of massive demonstrations by the MB against the authoritarian rule of the military, the army asked for calm and requested dialogue and negotiations with the MB. Consequently, MB leader and judge Abdel Qader Odeh dismissed the crowds, but by the evening he was arrested along with many other senior MB leaders. Within weeks most leaders were charged with subversive activities including the assassination attempt of army leader Gamal Abdel Nasser. Eventually, six MB leaders were executed including Odeh.

Regrettably, government prosecutors and judges have politicized the judicial system and made a mockery of it, aggressively using Mubarak-era tactics. Former MB head and General Guide Mahdi Akef, as well as the current Guide Muhammad Badie, and his two deputies Khayrat Al-Shater and Rashad Bayoumi, were charged with murder and treason and could face the death penalty. Other Islamist political leaders were charged with ridiculous accusations in order to publicly humiliate them. For example, former parliamentary speaker and head of the Freedom and Justice Party (the MB affiliated political party), Saad Al-Katatni, and former presidential candidate Hazem Abu Ismail, were charged with forming a gang to rob houses.

Meanwhile, as President Morsi was detained illegally for weeks while world leaders demanded his release, government prosecutors charged him this week with communicating with Hamas, a charge that is only considered criminal by Israel. Another accusation against Morsi was his escape from prison on January 27, 2011, when he was detained illegally by Mubarak's goons at the height of the 2011 uprising.

For the past month, liberal and secular elites have urged the government to crack down hard on the protesters regardless of how many people lose their lives. Some liberal supporters of the coup even argued that it is necessary to sacrifice blood in order to establish a secular democracy and ban the involvement of any religious group in politics. Meanwhile, the U.S. administration is willing to give the army and police one more chance to end the challenge posed by the anti-coup protesters. While the U.S. might look the other way if the loss of life is in the hundreds, it is unlikely that it would back the crack down if the casualties are in the thousands.

Egyptian generals initially justified their military coup as the only option available to prevent bloodshed. Now they promise to spill blood, perhaps lots of it, in order to preserve their increasingly disintegrating coup. Meanwhile, the defenders of democracy and constitutional legitimacy are determined to stay the course until the will of the people is respected. It is the classic struggle between right and might. History shows that right ultimately prevails.

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Esam Al-Amin is a regular contributor for a number of websites.

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