Yesterday evening, protests regarding Egypt’s new constitution and President Mohamed Morsi’s powers forced the president to flee his palace. After extra security was dispatched to the palace today, protests have continued, and escalated into clashes between the various factions (the Brotherhood, for its part, claims that the protesters include Mubarak-loyalist “thugs”). At a press conference today, opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei claimed that two protesters have been killed, though the reports are unconfirmed.
Now the Egyptian newspaper al-Ahram reports that two key Morsi aides have resigned, with one telling al-Jazeera that “We can no longer stay silent because they [the Muslim Brotherhood] have harmed the nation and the revolution and we need to rebuild Egypt.”
Meanwhile, as Egyptians object to the process and content of their constitution and revolutionary government, the United States stands, worse than silent, essentially in support of Morsi’s Brotherhood government. Yesterday President Obama’s national-security adviser, Tom Donilon, met with a key Morsi foreign-affairs representative. The U.S. embassy in Cairo described the meeting thus:
The two officials reaffirmed the strategic relationship between the United States and Egypt. They discussed a broad range of issues, including our bilateral economic cooperation, joint efforts to promote regional security and build on the cease-fire in Gaza, and Egypt’s democratic transition and the need to move forward with a peaceful and inclusive transition that respects the rights of all Egyptians.
That is, the Obama administration has been happy not only not to threaten withdrawal of financial support for the Brotherhood government, but as the popular legitimacy of the government is in question, they have “reaffirmed [our] strategic relationship” with that government. Then today at a NATO meeting in Brussels, following yesterday’s clashes, Secretary of State Clinton was asked about the situation, the “shortcomings” of the draft constitution, and the repercussions of its possibly being passed. Her response could not be more limp:
We have been watching very closely this process as it is unfolding in Cairo with concern. We’ve expressed that repeatedly over the last weeks. . . . And they, therefore — not the Americans, not anyone else but the Egyptian people – deserve a constitution that protects the rights of all Egyptians, men and women, Muslim and Christian, and ensures that Egypt will uphold all of its international obligations. They also want and deserve a constitutional process that is open, transparent, and fair and does not unduly favor one group over any other.
So the upheaval we are seeing now, once again in the streets of Cairo and other cities, indicates that dialogue is urgently needed, and it needs to be a two-way dialogue, not one side talking at another side, but actual, respectful exchanges of views and concerns among Egyptians themselves about the constitutional process and the substance of the constitution. It’s also important that Egypt’s courts be allowed to function during this period.
So we call on all stakeholders in Egypt to settle their differences through democratic dialogue, and we call on Egypt’s leaders to ensure that the outcome protects the democratic promise of the revolution for all of Egypt’s citizens. Ultimately, it is up to the Egyptian people to chart their way forward. But we want to see a process that is inclusive and a dialogue that is truly open to a free exchange of ideas that will further the democratic process in Egypt.
So the Egyptian people, facing a massive usurpation of power by the Brotherhood president, can count on the United States to “watch the situation very closely,” and “express concern.” “Repeatedly.” As Elliott Abrams pointed out last week, these are the weakest responses possible from our diplomats.
At the very least, Secretary Clinton could have added to her calls for “dialogue” at least some “concern” that the draft constitution does not protect the rights of all Egyptians, as Samuel Tadros explains below; she instead offered no comment on the draft at all.