Although in different stages crackdown, both Syria and Egypt are tragically embroiled in bloody civil conflicts—and don’t appear to be getting any better.
This morning, Syrian rebels reported the massed use of chemical weapons in the deaths of hundreds of civilians including women and children. Although the reports have not been officially confirmed, videos of the effects of exposure and death were posted on social media sites today. Syrian state television denied the reports, which, if true, would stand as the most catastrophic use of chemical weapons in recent memory. The use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime has been cited as a “red line” by President Obama, that if crossed, would coerce a U.S. response presumably including significant military involvement. It remains to be seen if Obama will enter the very politically complex situation with Russia and Iran both backing the Assad regime.
To date, over 100,000 people have lost their lives in the Syrian conflict with hundreds of thousands displaced.
In Egypt, the military coup conducted a few weeks ago has claimed approximately 1000 lives. The deaths have largely been among supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, who, until their overthrow, was the democratically elected ruling party of now ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi. Morsi is currently being held in an undisclosed location by the Egyptian military and Muslim Brotherhood leaders and members are continuing to be rounded-up and arrested all throughout Egypt. Yesterday, the spiritual leader of the Brotherhood was arrested and paraded on state television in a humiliating way. In a shocking development, a few days ago dozens of protest detainees were reported killed by the military amid a supposed escape attempt while Brotherhood activists claimed they were "executed."
On CNN on Sunday, Bret Stephens, the Pulitzer Prize winning foreign affairs columnist for the Wall Street Journal, commented on the political hopelessness in Egypt:
Look, first of all, it's a problem with no good solutions. You have in Egyptian politics a kind of a zero-sum game. I mean, efforts by Senators McCain and Graham, by the administration itself to try to finesse a power sharing agreement between the military and the Brotherhood, have clearly failed. The Brotherhood aims to topple the military; the military understands that it's in a kind of death match with the Brotherhood and is going to exert itself forcefully, and as we've seen this week, violently on the Brotherhood to stop them.
The question is, can we help? Can we show the military that it’s in their own interests to have a political process that if it doesn’t quite include the Brotherhood, doesn’t suppress them as violently. Because the government, especially General Sisi, will not be doing themselves favors with the rest of the Arab world – certainly not with Europe and the United States – if protesters continue to be massacred in the streets. So how do you soften those blows?
The turmoil in the Middle East does not seem to be approaching any kind of resolution or denouement. It's frustrating that there isn't an international body with the capacity to deny violent crackdowns by national governments and militaries on their citizens. People deserve basic universal rights and until these rights are universally protected by nation states and guaranteed by international oversight—ostensibly, at one time, the promise of the United Nations—we will continue to see outbreaks of brutal violence harkening back to more barbarous eras.
Thomas Jefferson, the author of the United States Declaration of Independence, said, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants." But in the case of the burgeoning Middle East in the throes of "Arab Spring," evidently just planting the seed of that tree, sadly, has required great amounts of bloodshed—and it still remains to be seen what will spout, if anything.