Moral Low Ground


Obama Condemns Egypt’s Military Massacre; US Aid Continues

US President Barack Obama condemned the Egyptian military’s massacre of civilians and canceled a planned joint military exercise, even as the forces responsible for the bloodbath will continue to receive more than a billion dollars in annual US aid.

“The United States strongly condemns the steps that have been taken by Egypt’s interim government and security forces,” Obama said while vacationing on the tony Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard. “We deplore violence against civilians. We support universal rights essential to human dignity, including the right to peaceful protest.”

The president’s remarks came as the death toll from the brutal government crackdown on protesters topped 600, according to the Egyptian Health Ministry. At least an additional 3,000 people have been wounded. Security forces demolished two protest camps in the capital city of Cairo and attacked demonstrators calling for the reinstatement of ousted president Mohamed Morsi, who was deposed in a July 3 military coup.

It was Egypt’s second revolution in two years. The first overthrew the long-ruling, US-backed dictator Hosni Mubarak in 2011, part of the Arab Spring revolts that swept across North Africa and the Middle East. Mubarak was replaced with Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood-backed candidate who won Egypt’s first-ever democratic election in June 2012.

Despite concerns over his Muslim Brotherhood background and his regime’s increasingly authoritarian rule, the Obama administration embraced Morsi and continued lavishing Egypt with hundreds of millions of dollars in military and other aid. The US had been a staunch supporter of the Mubarak regime, providing it with more aid than any other nation besides Israel for decades. According to US diplomatic cables leaked by the whistleblower website Wikileaks in 2011, the US also trained torturers from Egypt’s State Security and Investigative Service (SSIS) at the FBI academy in Quantico, Virginia, despite a warning by Margaret Scobey, the US ambassador in Cairo, that “Egypt’s police and security services continue to be dogged by persistent, credible allegations” of torture.

President Obama has announced that the United States will cancel scheduled joint US-Egyptian Bright Star military exercises in response to the ongoing brutal crackdown. Yet as of Thursday, there has been no indication that Washington will halt or even slow US military aid to the very forces committing widespread atrocities against civilians, including what appears to be the deliberate targeting of journalists.

There is no end in sight to the deadly government crackdown. On Thursday, the nation’s Interior Ministry warned that police were authorized to kill protesters and punish “terrorist actions and sabotage.” Meanwhile, the nation’s military government claimed it has acted with “self-restraint” while attempting to quash the massive demonstrations.

“Our forces have exercised self-restraint and professionalism in their actions,” the government said in a statement on Wednesday night. “This is reflected in the low number of injuries.”

But the government’s assertion was not reflected in Cairo’s overwhelmed Zeinhoum morgue, where bodies wrapped in blood-soaked sheets continued to pile up by the dozens as thousands of grieving people braved the grisly scene and the stench of rotting corpses to identify or claim slain loved ones.

American support for brutal dictatorhips is nothing new, nor is it limited to Egypt. The US backs regimes in four of the world’s seven least-free nations, as ranked by the Washington-based think tank Freedom House. Among these are:

-Saudi Arabia, an Islamic fundamentalist monarchy in which torture and execution, usually by public beheading, are commonplace, and where women, sexual and religious minorities have few or no rights. ‘Crimes’ resulting in execution in the kingdom include: renouncing Islam, adultery, witchcraft, blasphemy, prostitution and homosexuality.

-Equatorial Guinea, an oil-rich African nation ruled by the corrupt dictator Teodoro Obiang, the continent’s longest-ruling leader. The US State Department report on the nation cites torture and arbitrary arrests as commonplace. Obiang has repeatedly won sham elections in which he receives nearly 100 percent of the vote.

-Uzbekistan, a former Soviet republic in central Asia ruled by Islam Karimov, a holdover from Soviet times who is fond of boiling his political opponents alive.

These are but a handful of the many dictatorships and other brutal regimes supported by the Obama administration around the globe.

In the case of Egypt, US support is based on more than just Washington’s strategic interests. Writes Sahar Aziz for the Middle East Institute, a non-partisan think tank based in Washington, DC:

While many consider the Egypt-Israel peace treaty to be the touchstone of US policy objectives in the region, vested US-Egypt business interests must also be considered. The terms of the aid package require the Egyptian military to spend the funds on arms manufactured by US defense contractors. As a result, in March 2012, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sidestepped an unprecedented Congressional requirement that linked arms sales to Egypt’s commitment to human rights and approved a military assistance package to Egypt. While the State Department framed the waiver as necessary for “promoting regional stability and peace,” the decision was due in large part to the domestic economic costs of delaying or cutting any of the $1.5 billion assistance package. The New York Times reported that the Pentagon– and by extension, the US taxpayer– would have to pay an estimated $2 billion in penalties arising from contract breaches with American defense companies, as the US government is responsible for compensating the defense firms for any consequent losses. Major stakeholders in the assistance package included Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics, which have longstanding relationships with the Egyptian military, not to mention significant political influence domestically.

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