Thursday, August 15 16:25:06
Having failed to dissuade Egypt's military-dominated rulers from launching a bloody crackdown on supporters of an ousted Islamist president, Western governments are venting condemnation and groping for ways to influence the outcome.
The United States and the European Union tried jointly to facilitate a peaceful, political solution to the stand-off between the army and toppled President Mohamed Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood, appealing right to the end to avoid violence.
"What could we have done otherwise?" asked Menzies Campbell, a senior lawmaker in Britain's Liberal Democrats, junior partner in the government coalition. "It just emphasises not so much a failure of Western diplomacy, but a powerlessness.
"These divisions are absolutely fundamental, about the kind of society that each side of the argument wishes to have," Campbell told Reuters in a telephone interview.
The inability to sway military strongman General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the security establishment leaves the West in quandary as to how to square its democratic principles with a vital interest in stability in the Arab world's most populous nation, straddling the Suez Canal trade corridor.
"The West needs to find a calibrated way of suspending aid and economic benefits that shows the non-military political class, including the business community, that they will pay a price in things that matter to them," said Daniel Levy, Middle East director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, a policy think-tank.
The United States, which has maintained a strategic alliance with Cairo since President Jimmy Carter engineered the first Arab-Israeli peace treaty between Egypt and the Jewish state in 1979, deplored the violence and urged restraint and a political solution.
President Barack Obama strongly condemned the steps taken by Egypt's government and announced on Thursday the cancellation of a major joint military exercise with Egypt, in a symbolic blow to the pride of the Egyptian armed forces.
Facing growing pressure in Congress to curtail the $1.3 billion in annual military assistance to Egypt, the president said he was studying further steps that could be necessary in the relationship with Cairo.
That aid, mainly in the form of arms sales, pales when compared with the $12 billion that Gulf monarchies Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait promised Cairo as soon as the army ousted Mursi on July 3 in response to mass protests.
Obama added that Washington wanted to be a long-term partner with Egypt and was guided by national interests in this long-standing relationship. (Reuters)