Focusing on the Wrong Conflict

The tensions that have been simmering below the surface for weeks erupted across Egypt on Wednesday and, as of this writing, at least 278 people were killed and more than 2,000 injured nationwide, many of them in the crackdown on two encampments of supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi.

While it had been widely expected that the dismantling of the encampments, which came after repeated warnings by the military regime, would spark violent clashes, the rapidly escalating death toll elicited strong condemnations from the United States and others.

“We have repeatedly called on the Egyptian military and security forces to show restraint, and for the government to respect the universal rights of its citizens, just as we’ve urged protestors to demonstrate peacefully,” Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters at a briefing at President Obama’s vacation spot at Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.

In a surprise appearance at the State Department, Secretary of State John Kerry called the violence “deplorable” and urged Egypt’s interim leaders to take a step back and calm the situation.

“This is a pivotal moment for all Egyptians,” Kerry said. “The path toward violence leads only to greater instability, economic disaster and suffering.”

Kerry is, of course, right. Violence breeds violence, and everything humanly possible must be done to prevent bloodshed. But it would be a mistake to pile all the blame on the Egyptian military.

Despite their best efforts to portray themselves as innocent, peace-seeking, pro-Democracy protestors, the Muslim Brotherhood isn’t exactly the paradigm of civil disobedience. According to Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim, 43 policemen died in the assault, and Morsi supporters attacked 21 police stations and seven Coptic Christian churches across the nation. Furthermore, it is important to keep in mind that the military takeover didn’t occur in a vacuum. Morsi was ousted after millions of Egyptians took to the streets in what, to all practical effects, was a recall vote by protesters infuriated at what was broadly seen as his giving the Muslim Brotherhood undue influence, failing to implement vital reforms, and doing nothing to save a dying economy.

It is imperative that America walks carefully between the raindrops; while it should continue to call for calm and do what it can to reduce the tensions within Egypt, the Obama administration must move with caution and great care.

The Western World can’t afford for America to be perceived as bolstering the Muslim Brotherhood, a radical group with close ties to Hamas and other terrorist organizations, nor can it afford to risk alienating the Egyptian military.

While America currently gives $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Egypt, that number pales in comparison to the $12 billion aid package that Egypt’s Arab allies have promised. Late last month, it received $2 billion from Saudi Arabia, a sign that the Arab countries are serious about propping up the military government — and through their aid, wielding influence.

As the situation in Egypt continues to deteriorate, it also takes part in shattering a myth that has been circulated for decades. This is the assertion that the only crisis in the Middle East is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and were this dispute to be ironed out, the Middle East would reap the benefits of peace and prosperity.

In reality, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the least of the region’s worries.

In addition to the turmoil in Egypt, the death toll caused by the civil war in Syria continues to skyrocket with no apparent end in sight. More than 100,000 people have been killed since that country’s revolt began in March 2011 with largely peaceful protests. The conflict slowly escalated into a civil war that has destroyed many of the nation’s cities, forced millions from their homes and shattered the economy.

Egypt and Syria are hardly the only Muslim countries torn apart by deep internal strife.

Doctors Without Borders announced Wednesday that it is closing all operations in Somalia because of “extreme abuses” by armed factions and government indifference toward them.

“In choosing to kill, attack, and abduct humanitarian aid workers, these armed groups, and the civilian authorities who tolerate their actions, have sealed the fate of countless lives in Somalia,” Unni Karunakara, the international medical group’s president, said in a scathing statement about the conditions driving the relief group to leave after 22 years.

Somalia last year installed its first elected government and president since the country collapsed into civil war in 1991. Despite an impression of emerging stability, huge areas of the country in the Horn of Africa remain torn by political and religious strife. Much of it has been provoked by the al-Qaida–aligned al-Shabab terror group.

In Iraq, more than 3,000 people have been killed in violence during the past few months, and violence continues to plague post-Gadhafi Libya.

Instead of putting an unfair amount of pressure on Israel to make dangerous concessions in the quest for a peace deal, the Obama administration would be far better off focusing on some far more pressing and much more dangerous hot spots.