What's In Blue

Posted Thu 15 Aug 2013

Briefing on the Situation in Egypt

Council members are expected to meet in consultations at 5:30 pm on the situation in Egypt, with Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson expected to brief. The increasingly violent response by the Egyptian army to protests by supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi has resulted in a rising death toll and condemnation from around the world, with yesterday’s attacks resulting in over 600 killed. This will be the first briefing in the Council on recent events in Egypt, and at press time it did not seem likely that there would be any outcome following the briefing. (In early 2011 during the events that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak the Council did not have briefings on the situation in Egypt.)

Council members will be looking for more details of yesterday’s crackdown in which police and military forces forcibly dispersed two pro-Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins in the Cairo squares of Rabaa al-Adaweya and al-Nahda, where supporters of Morsi have gathered following his 3 July ouster. At press time the Ministry of Health had announced that the climbing death toll was at 638, including 43 security officers, with 288 killed at Rabaa al-Adaweya, the larger demonstration, and the remaining deaths occurring in al-Nahda and in clashes elsewhere in the country. The Muslim Brotherhood claims that far more of its supporters, upwards of 2,000, were killed in the two squares. Authorities imposed a month-long state of emergency and countrywide nightly curfew following the events.

Leading up to the crackdown, the Ministry of Interior had repeatedly called for an end to the sit-ins which they deemed a threat to security, citing allegations that some protesters were heavily armed and that anti-Morsi protesters had been held and tortured at the sites. (The torture allegations were echoed by a 2 August press release by Amnesty International.) Meanwhile, EU and US attempts to mediate a solution between the government and pro-Morsi demonstrators have proven fruitless. According to the EU the Egyptian army rejected a peace plan with the Muslim Brotherhood a few hours before the killings in Cairo began.

Reactions to the crackdown have been strong with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon yesterday condemning in the strongest terms the violence in Cairo and urging all Egyptians to focus on promoting inclusive reconciliation. The crackdown came just days after Ban renewed his call for all sides in Egypt to reconsider their actions in light of new political realities and the imperative to prevent further loss of life. EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, who visited Egypt in late July, yesterday urged Egypt’s rulers to end the state of emergency and strongly condemned the violence.

Council members may also be keen to get a better understanding of issues related to human rights and protection of civilians. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi
Pillay today deplored the loss of life and called on all in Egypt to seek a way out of the violence, urging the Egyptian authorities and security forces to act with the utmost restraint and imploring demonstrators to ensure their gatherings remain peaceful. Pillay encouraged genuinely inclusive reconciliation and appealed to all sides to engage in urgent dialogue to avoid further violence and hate speech. She also called for an independent investigation into the killings which pointed to an “excessive, even extreme use of force against demonstrators”.

Several foreign governments had warned Egyptian authorities against violently cracking down on the demonstrations, and many have deplored yesterday’s events. Today, French President François Hollande summoned Egypt’s ambassador and demanded an end to the state of emergency. US President Barack Obama in a statement this morning said that US “traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual while civilians are being killed in the streets&#8221,; and announced the cancellation of joint military exercises with Egypt, scheduled for next month. UK Foreign Minister William Hague issued a statement expressing deep concern at the escalation of violence and, citing the UK’s involvement in diplomatic efforts to reach a peaceful solution to the standoff, expressed disappointment that a compromise had not been possible. Turkey yesterday called on the Security Council and the Arab League to meet urgently to discuss the situation in Egypt.

Members are likely to be aware that the security situation remains volatile nationwide and sectarian tensions have reached seemingly unprecedented levels. They may be seeking more information about the potential for further violence in the next few days. Following yesterday’s crackdown, suspected Brotherhood loyalists attacked dozens of churches and Christian homes and institutions. Coptic rights group, the Maspero Youth Union, estimated that as many as 36 churches were completely devastated by fire across nine Egyptian governorates, including Minya, Sohag and Assiut, areas with large numbers of Christians. The Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, and on the Responsibility to Protect, Jennifer Welsh, noted the attacks and urged all Egyptians to “refrain from using violence to express their grievances, in particular by targeting religious minorities and institutions, or by using language and inciting behaviours that may escalate tensions&#8221,;and warned about the risk of increased violence against these communities if no measures are taken to ensure their protection.

Also of concern is the situation in Egypt’s largely lawless Sinai Peninsula where a militant insurgency seems to be taking root, with attacks increasing since Morsi’s ousting. Today militants killed seven soldiers in an attack on a checkpoint in El-Arish in northern Sinai, according to security officials.

Some Council members in the past have been reluctant to discuss Egypt, viewing the unrest in 2011 as largely an internal situation. However, when the request for a briefing was made by Australia, France and the UK today, it seems that none of the Council members tried to block the idea. However, there was more resistance from some members to having an outcome, making any sort of immediate Council action unlikely.

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