Egypt Death Toll Tops 500; Obama Interrupts Vacation to Speak (Updated)
President Obama will interrupt his Martha's Vineyard vacation to deliver a public statement on the rising violence in Egypt. What he'll say or how effective it can possibly be is not at all clear. He and his administration seem to be viewing Egypt's struggle as if it's essentially American in character -- just sit down at the table, talk it out, and all will be well. That doesn't even always work well here, as Planned Parenthood protesters proved in Texas earlier this summer, and NARAL supporters proved yesterday. But the essentially American fight over abortion didn't and never threatened to turn into a running war in the streets. It's a different thing entirely to what we're seeing in Egypt.
In Egypt, they do have a running war in the streets. It's a war for the soul and direction of the country. The Daily Mail captured a horrifying scene in which Muslim Brotherhood supporters tossed an armored police truck off a bridge. About 50 police are among the dead as the violence continues to escalate.
The low-grade civil war in Egypt is entirely alien to the American experience. It's tribal, it's sectarian, it's fundamentalist Islam versus the secular military. It has very little to do with the United States, yet the Obama administration has managed to look silly and impotent while alienating all sides. It helped oust secular Mubarak, said little about Muslim supremacist Morsi, and now just deplores violence because it can't seem to figure out what else to say or do.
The Obama administration helped unleash this madness with its support of the so-called "Arab Spring." It was obvious at the time that the Egypt lacks the institutions and history to transition smoothly to democracy. In its first election, Egypt elected the undemocratic Muslim Brotherhood, which promptly went about enshrining anti-democratic sharia law -- and its own extremist ideology -- into the fabric of Egyptian life. Backlash against that wasn't inevitable, but now that it's happened, it's fierce. The military is fighting for stability and its own power, some Egyptians are genuinely fighting for freedom both from military and Islamist rule, and the Muslim Brotherhood are fighting to exterminate Christians and to further the Islamist revolution.
It may be that the violence just has to play itself out, and one side has to defeat the other.
Update: In an audio statement, Obama "strongly condemned" actions taken by the interim government, and announced that the US is canceling a joint military exercise with the Egyptian military. Great move -- let's isolate Egypt and send it running into the arms of Russia and China, or Iran, depending on which side wins.