Egypt's Military-Backed Government Condemned For Crackdown

Egypt's military-backed government is facing widespread condemnation for its violent crackdown on Islamist protesters. U.S. and European diplomats had tried to push for a negotiated solution to Egypt's political crisis and had been urging all sides to exercise restraint. However, those efforts failed and diplomats are now scrambling to head off further violence.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

Around the world, there is sharp reaction to the crackdown in Cairo. In Egypt, there is a month-long state of emergency and a nightly curfew. Egyptian riot police moved against supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi in the early hours today. Armored vehicles, helicopters and bulldozers moved on the camps to clear protesters out of two encampments in the capital city. Witnesses describe it as a bloodbath.

SIEGEL: Egypt's Ministry of Health says 278 people were killed. The number is contested and it's expected to rise. Even with the curfew today, some Morsi supporters continued their protest in the streets of Cairo.

Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei has resigned in protest over the violence. And outside of Egypt, the crackdown was widely condemned.

CORNISH: American and European diplomats are now scrambling to head off further violence. We're going to hear from an Egyptian government spokesman in a few moments. First, to NPR's Michele Kelemen for more on the international reaction.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Around the world, diplomats are expressing alarm about the violence in Egypt. Secretary of State John Kerry was among those calling on the Egyptian government and military to step back and help restore calm.

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY: Today's events are deplorable, and they run counter to Egyptian aspirations for peace, inclusion and genuine democracy.

KELEMEN: Kerry says he's been on the phone with Egyptian officials, including the foreign minister. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was also working the phones. He issued a strongly worded rebuke, saying he regrets that the Egyptian authorities chose to use force instead of heeding his calls for restraint. Ban's spokesman Eduardo del Buey is urging Egyptians now to concentrate on reconciliation.

EDUARDO DEL BUEY: The secretary-general also believes firmly that violence and incitement from any side are not the answers to the challenges Egypt faces.

KELEMEN: But diplomats don't seem to have any real answers or leverage when it comes to resolving the crisis in Egypt. In London, British Foreign Secretary William Hague lamented the fact that compromise was not possible despite what he calls intensive diplomatic efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the standoff between the military-backed interim government and supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi. And here in Washington, Secretary Kerry could only say the world is watching.

KERRY: So this is a pivotal moment for all Egyptians. The path towards violence leads only to greater instability, economic disaster and suffering. The only sustainable path for either side is one towards a political solution.

KELEMEN: Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who recently traveled to Cairo, says the chaos in Egypt was predictable. It didn't help, he pointed out on his Twitter account today, that Kerry recently praised the Egyptian military for its takeover. McCain was referring to this comment by Kerry from a Pakistani television interview earlier this month.

KERRY: In effect, they were restoring democracy.

KELEMEN: The Obama administration has avoided calling the ouster of Morsi a military coup so that it doesn't have to cut off aid to Egypt. White House Spokesman Josh Earnest says that position stands for now.

JOSH EARNEST: We have determined that it is not in the best interest of the United States to make that determination. But as we've also said throughout that process, we are on a regular basis reviewing the aid that is provided by the United States to Egypt, and we'll continue to do that.

KELEMEN: A longtime Egyptian diplomat, Raouf Adly Saad, who was a special envoy for Egypt's interim president, says Egyptians are offended when the U.S. tries to use its assistance as a stick.

RAOUF ADLY SAAD: Every time we have a misunderstanding, we hear: We'll have to cut aid. Who said that aid is only in Egypt's interest?

KELEMEN: The $1.3 billion a year aid package for the Egyptian military dates back to the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. As for the international diplomacy on this latest crisis, Saad told the Middle East Institute here in Washington that the visits by U.S. and European diplomats only emboldened pro-Morsi protesters.

SAAD: This kind of international attention, rather than it helps to get to a compromise or reconciliation, it gives them a sense of more support that will go on on their own path rather than to listen to reason.

KELEMEN: The Egyptian diplomat says the military-backed government had no choice but to clear out the demonstrators. But the U.S. says there were political alternatives, and Kerry discussed that with Mohamed ElBaradei, the interim vice president who quit today over the crackdown. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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