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Coupless in Cairo

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This post is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

With Egypt on the brink we continue to learn a lot about Egypt and ourselves.  Yesterday the Obama administration decided to call it a day on whether the ouster of the democratically elected president of Egypt was a coup or not.  The Obama administration decided not to decide. 

Why did the administration decide not decide?  The New York Times puts it this way through the words of a senior official: 

“The law does not require us to make a formal determination as to whether a coup took place, and it is not in our national interest to make such a determination.” 

“We will not say it was a coup, we will not say it was not a coup, we will just not say.” 

The Times also cites a State Department official tying the administration’s decision to US national security:

 “Egypt serves as a stabilizing pillar of regional peace and security and the United States has a national security interest in a stable and successful democratic transition in Egypt,” the official said. “We believe that the continued provision of assistance to Egypt, consistent with our law, is important to our goal of advancing a responsible transition to democratic governance and is consistent with our national security interests.”

Among the potential dangers in the cut-off of aid is a reduction in the ability of the Egyptian military to halt smuggling of weapons to Hamas, which could use them against Israel. The aid program is also a pillar of the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, and Israeli officials have urged the United States not to suspend it.

Meanwhile the AP reports that ousted President Morsi has been remanded for custody for his flight to freedom from jail in 2011:

The case against Morsi is rooted in the mass jailbreak of more than 30 Muslim Brotherhood leaders from a prison northwest of Cairo during the 2011 popular uprising that toppled Morsi’s predecessor, autocrat Hosni Mubarak. There have been many reports in the Egyptian media that the Brotherhood collaborated with Hamas, its Palestinian wing, and Hezbollah militants in Lebanon to arrange the breakout.

Muslim Brotherhood officials have said they were aided by local residents in breaking out of prison, not foreigners. However, a court in the Suez Canal city of Ismailia has heard testimonies from prison officials and intelligence officers strongly indicating that Morsi and his Brotherhood colleagues were freed when gunmen led by Hamas operatives stormed the Wadi el-Natroun prison.

What a bizarre news day!  First we have the US deciding not to decide about whether or not there was a coup – a decision based not on the definition of military takeovers but one based on perceived US national security interests. 

Then on the same day the logic becomes even weirder. We have the already detained ousted Egyptian President Morsi formally detained on charges that he broke out of prison with help from others – after being imprisoned by a soon-to-be ousted President Mubarak – who himself was detained for trial on charges he illegally used Presidential powers to imprison dissidents like Morsi – who was then elected President. 

All of this by the military that placed Mubarak in power, then ousted him, and accepted Morsi’s election, then ousted him and have now called the (loyal and patriotic) Egyptian people out on the streets to confront a good proportion of the (disloyal and treasonous) Egyptian people who elected the illegally imprisoned, jail breaking, now formally charged ex-President.

If you’re illegally imprisoned – even defined as such by the Egyptian military that held the power then and now – how does breaking out of prison become a crime?

Now I get it.  When a coup isn’t a coup – either with Mubarak or Morsi – then being in jail or breaking out of jail, be ousted and held incommunicado, then being formally charged –  is all relative. To national security.

If national security interest makes the rules in the United States why shouldn’t make the rules in Egypt, too?

Marc H. Ellis
About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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14 Responses

  1. Citizen
    Citizen
    July 26, 2013, 12:13 pm

    “If national security interest makes the rules in the United States why shouldn’t [it] make the rules in Egypt, too? Nice rhetorical question. It always does, and the more so, the more rogue the state government is. Witness Israel’s not saying whether or not it has a nuclear weapon stockpile. And witness the US claiming ditto on that, meanwhile going after Iran for nuclear weapons it may one day make, all the while subject to inspections, while Israel is not. In any case where to apply the rule of law objectively may result in harming in any way the elite 1-5% in any country, the rule of law goes out the window in a flurry of abstractions back up by police and military power, not to mention the judiciary–none of whom are elected powers via public vote.
    Can anyone name a country where the mass public is not at odds with its own government? Start with the West and N America continent, and the UK, Australia, New Zealand. Let’s stick to the question of Israel and the Palestinians, for now. And would the answer be different if the media gave a balanced story to the public?

  2. Kathleen
    Kathleen
    July 26, 2013, 1:14 pm

    This morning during the Diane Rehm’s International hour Diane took a sheepish shot at whether it was a coup. Something like “wasn’t the removal of Morsi based on what the Egyptian population wanted” James Kitfield set her straight “it was a coup”

    Too bad the US military did not remove Bush and Cheney after the US supreme court selected Bush and hundreds of thousands of us hit the streets. The media barely whispered about us.

  3. Taxi
    Taxi
    July 26, 2013, 3:43 pm

    Some people wouldn’t know what a revolution is even if it smacked them in the mouth.

  4. piotr
    piotr
    July 26, 2013, 10:26 pm

    To a person with limited intellect, you either can eat the cake or you can have it, but not both. It is not in an American interest to alienate half of Egyptian public given that in a year or two it can turn into a majority. Especially if the current government will follow its instincts to crush the opposition, only to alienate later many groups that support it now. After all, at their core they are not technocrats but kleptocrats.

    Right now two putative puppets are hating each other and any sign of support to one side will secure enmity of the other. Even worse, if Muslim Brotherhood is eliminated from the political scene, the votes of the more religiously conservative voters may be monopolized by Salafists, which may be leasing to Saudis and Emiratis but not exactly to USA. But an outright bet on the “legitimacy” of Morsi’s presidency would be futile.

    So it is high time to deploy Banach-Tarski paradox: cut the cake into infinitely many pieces and re-assemble them into two cakes. Repeat. Give a cake to each of the warring puppets and keep one for the future use. It may take literally forever to cut a cake into infinitely many pieces, but this is no a bug but a feature!

  5. Hostage
    Hostage
    July 27, 2013, 2:38 am

    “The law does not require us to make a formal determination as to whether a coup took place, and it is not in our national interest to make such a determination.”

    “We will not say it was a coup, we will not say it was not a coup, we will just not say.”

    The Congress has the last say on the question, not the Administration and it will have to certify that the new government has been duly elected. Let’s try reading that law together again. It requires the Treasury and Committees on Appropriations to automatically cutoff funding whenever a duly elected government is removed as a result of a military decree and stipulates that the only way to turn the spigot back on is by way of a Presidential certification:

    111 STAT. 2386 Public Law 105–118—Nov. 26, 1997, The “Foreign Operations, Export Financing, And Related Programs Appropriations Act, 1998″
    MILITARY COUPS
    SEC. 508. None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available pursuant to this Act shall be obligated or expended to finance directly any assistance to any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup or decree: Provided, That assistance may be resumed to such country if the President determines and reports to the Committees on Appropriations that subsequent to the termination of assistance a democratically elected government has taken office.

    There’s no room for doubt that the military issued an ultimatum demanding that the elected head of state step down. See for example:
    *Egypt’s military gives Morsy ultimatum
    http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/01/world/meast/egypt-protests

    *Showdown? Egypt’s Morsy defies military ‘ultimatum’ http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/02/world/meast/egypt-protests

  6. SimoHurtta
    SimoHurtta
    July 27, 2013, 8:02 am

    Interesting to see what will be the western rhetoric used about Egypt now. Will they begin to demand weapons for the Egyptian “opposition now” (Muslim brotherhood and other “freedom loving democrats”), non fly zones and begin to use equal language about Egypt’s rules used about Syria’s president and regime. US and some European leaders will need strong “medicines” and intensive training in order to able to look serious when explaining why what government in Egypt is doing is OK and what in Syria is not. And why Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt = BAD and Muslim Brotherhood in Syria = GOOD.

  7. just
    just
    July 27, 2013, 8:02 am

    This is surreal. Now the democratically elected President of Egypt is imprisoned after a military COUP because of “breaking out of jail” while Mubarak was in power. The military incites anti- Morsi Egyptians. The military rules with an iron fist. Chaos and bloodshed ensues. The military wants to continue its rule. And the US cannot speak the truth– ever, it seems.

    Kafkaesque indeed.

    • Hostage
      Hostage
      July 27, 2013, 1:24 pm

      And the US cannot speak the truth– ever, it seems. Kafkaesque indeed.

      Of course. Let’s remember that, despite decades of experience as triers of fact, the very same individuals who were entrusted to run the ICTY, ICTR, and ICC in positions of responsibility as Judges and Prosecutors, like Navi Pillay, Karl T. Hudson-Phillips, Richard Goldstone, & etc., are utterly incapable of writing anything but “fatally flawed” fact finding reports about the conduct of Israeli Occupation forces or IDF offensive operations according to the US government.

      The State Department wouldn’t be allowed to authorize the export of arms to Israel if it had “credible information” which said that units of the Israeli security forces had committed a gross violation of human rights. In fact, that would trigger it’s responsibility to demand that Israel bring those perpetrators to Justice before shipments could be resumed. See 22 USC § 2378d – Limitation on assistance to security forces http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/22/2378d

      • Citizen
        Citizen
        July 27, 2013, 2:04 pm

        @ Hostage, the most current analogy is the US law cutting off funds to countries changed by a military coup. This won’t happen, no matter how clear the legislative language is. Why? Same reason why US always implements double standards: AIPAC/Israel 5th Column in the US and US WH & Congress dependent on Israel First cash to stay in power, and gain more power. Ergo, Egypt will get its US aid solely because AIPAC/Israel sees this as aiding Israel to do what it wants. The point is neither the Egyptian Street nor the American Street have any influence at all, even if they have figured out what’s happening at their respective expense.

      • Hostage
        Hostage
        July 29, 2013, 4:50 am

        This won’t happen, no matter how clear the legislative language is.

        Whether Obama wants to admit it or not, he won’t go to jail for providing an outlandish or embarrassing written certification. On the other hand, career civil servants in the treasury department are not likely to fall on their own sword or follow marching orders that violate the law (much less risk taking the 5th in front of a hostile appropriations committee).

    • Obsidian
      Obsidian
      July 27, 2013, 1:48 pm

      The Arab States indeed.

  8. just
    just
    July 27, 2013, 8:19 am

    “Among the potential dangers in the cut-off of aid is a reduction in the ability of the Egyptian military to halt smuggling of weapons to Hamas, which could use them against Israel. The aid program is also a pillar of the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, and Israeli officials have urged the United States not to suspend it.”

    Ok. I am waiting to see anything from our “ally” with regard to making peace or justice reign in the region. We give them billions and our unwavering support for what exactly?????? To support an Apartheid State that has more interest in preserving and making enemies than partners? I really and truly believe that our “special relationship” with intransigent Israel is a root cause of many of our problems and affects our influence/reputation/national security. What is it that they say? Friends don’t let friends drive drunk.

  9. bilal a
    bilal a
    July 27, 2013, 10:24 am

    where is El Baradei ?

    Unconfirmed reports by Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood claim 220 protesters were killed, 4,500 injured in army attack on pro-Morsi sit-in.

    http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4410101,00.html

  10. MHughes976
    MHughes976
    July 27, 2013, 12:37 pm

    At least 100 killed and at least 150 injured according to the (no doubt conservative) BBC estimate at this moment.

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