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18 Aug, 2013 14:56

Who’s to blame for Egypt violence? EU, Obama and Mideast leaders beg to differ

Who’s to blame for Egypt violence? EU, Obama and Mideast leaders beg to differ

The EU will urgently review its relations with Egypt, the two top officials of the 28-member union said – signaling a more critical European approach toward the country’s military rulers than that coming from Washington.

President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy and President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso in a rare joint statement Sunday strongly criticized the military-backed Egyptian government for failing to curb the week’s violence.

“We regret deeply that international efforts and proposals for building bridges and establishing an inclusive political process, to which the EU contributed actively, were set aside and a course of confrontation was pursued instead,” the statement read.

The EU leaders called for an immediate halt to violence in Egypt, for the resumption of political dialogue and a return to democratic rule, stressing that it was the interim government’s job to ensure an end to violence. 

“While all should exert maximum restraint, we underline the particular responsibility of the interim authorities and of the army in bringing clashes to a halt. The violence and the killings of these last days cannot be justified nor condoned. Human rights must be respected and upheld. Political prisoners should be released,” the statement reads.

The statement came after the Egyptian government sought to justify the military’s violent crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood supporters as an anti-terrorist operation, pointing to the group’s alleged links with Al-Qaeda.

The EU’s call for an urgent review of its relations with Egypt stood in contrast to the much milder reaction from the US, where President Barack Obama earlier in the week canceled a planned joint military exercise with the Egyptian military, but left Washington’s $1.3 billion in military aid to Cairo unchanged.

Supporters of Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi waving a national flag run from tear gas during clashes with riot police at the 6th October Bridge in the Ramsis square area in central Cairo July 15, 2013. (Reuters/Asmaa Waguih)

In his statement, Obama also put the blame less clearly on the Egyptian military, and mentioned specifically violence against Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority.

“We call on those who are protesting to do so peacefully and condemn the attacks that we’ve seen by protesters, including on churches,” Obama said. 

The US has also refrained from describing Morsi’s ousting by the army in early July as a military coup.

Germany, meanwhile, immediately froze its aid to Egypt. The EU is going to hold an urgent meeting in Brussels next week to discuss suspending of 1 billion euro in aid to Cairo. 

Several rulers in the Arab world, particularly the Gulf monarchies such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Jordan, expressed their strong support for the security crackdown on the Egyptian opposition. 

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah called for “honest people and intellectuals” to “stand firmly against all those who try to shake the stability of a country that has always led the Arab and Islamic worlds," AP reported him as saying.

The only Gulf monarchy to express an opposing opinion was Qatar, which is supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. 

“There is an excessive use of force and that concerns us,” Mohammad Al Attiyah, Qatar’s Foreign Minister, told reporters in Berlin on Saturday. “In this case, we condemn violence against protesters and also the destruction of public buildings. We urge those in power in Egypt to end the violence.”

Another majority Muslim country to condemn the army’s crackdown on the pro-Morsi sit-ins was Turkey. President Abdullah Gul described the violence in Egypt as “a shame for Islam and the Arab world." Late Thursday, as relations between the two countries worsened, Turkey and Egypt recalled their ambassadors for consultations.