There may be little the United States can do to end the savage bloodletting in Egypt, but at least our nation can be loyal to its ideals by bearing witness and telling the truth. In this, President Barack Obama has failed.
A day after Egypt's military-backed “interim” government slaughtered hundreds of protesters and assumed sweeping emergency powers, Obama still could not bring himself to call what is happening a coup d'etat. Speaking from Martha's Vineyard, he described it as an “intervention.” In Cairo, meanwhile, authorities were still counting the bodies of those slain in Wednesday's massacre.
As of this writing, the government has acknowledged 578 dead. The Muslim Brotherhood, whose protest encampments were targeted in the crackdown, claims that victims number more than 2,000. There was no estimate of how many Brotherhood activists throughout Egypt have been rounded up.
Images of the brutal assault were shocking. Troops opened fire on unarmed demonstrators without warning. The interior minister's claim that soldiers did not use live ammunition was the kind of bald-faced lie that only repressive governments think they can get away with; Western correspondents described seeing protesters cut down by sniper fire, as well as coming under fire themselves.
A Muslim Brotherhood leader, Mohamed el-Beltagi, spoke defiantly to reporters shortly after learning that his 17-year-old daughter Asmaa was among the dead. An unidentified woman stood in front of a government bulldozer, blocking its way and protecting an injured young man, in a tableau reminiscent of the famous photograph from Tiananmen Square in which a man faced down a line of tanks. I can think of many words to describe such scenes. “Intervention” is not one of them.
Obama announced that in response to the violence, he is canceling a planned U.S.-Egypt joint military exercise. This is supposed to send a message of disapproval to the generals while still retaining influence and leverage.