Is This Egypt's Tiananmen Square?
In thinking about the violence in Egypt, picture Cairo's Rabaa square as Tiananmen in Beijing.
The official interim body count from the Aug. 14 crackdown on Egyptian protesters is 525 dead and more than 3,700 wounded. These numbers came exclusively from hospitals and don't appear to include impromptu morgues. So it is safe to assume that the final number will be higher.
That means, in terms of deaths, we are now in the realm of China's 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. The government's official death toll there was 241, although few outside China believe that was accurate. U.S. intelligence at the time put it between 180 and 500; Amnesty International at up to 1,000; and others still higher. The Muslim Brotherhood is now estimating 2,000 died in Cairo.
Or how about, for comparison, the Romanian Revolution, also in 1989? The best number we have for casualties in those brutal events is 1,104 dead and more than 3,000 wounded over a period of seven days.
Or consider the 18 days it took to overthrow Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in early 2011. A report by Egypt's post-revolutionary government put the toll at 846 dead, a fraction higher than a human-rights group estimate.
Admittedly, the Muslim Brotherhood protests aren't the same as those by the students in Tiananmen Square. The Chinese protests were largely spontaneous, the protesters didn't belong to any one organization, and they didn't represent a (despotic albeit elected) previous government. Nevertheless, at least 700 people have died since the Egypt military assumed power in a coup July 3, most of them unarmed civilians. And it is just mendacious to suggest, as the Egyptian government does, that responsibility for the killing lies with the Brotherhood -- no matter what the organization's faults, and despite its members fighting back.
You have to ask: How would the world be reacting if the victims in Cairo were secularists or anti-communists?
In the case of Tiananmen Square, many countries, including the U.S., cut off aid to and imposed sanctions on China. Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was unlamented when he was executed after a brief trial by a kangaroo court. And the U.S. in 2011 dropped its support of Mubarak, escalating his fall from power.
By comparison, response to the coup in Egypt remains weak. U.S. President Barack Obama today judged the violence bad enough to cancel a joint military exercise but not yet sufficient to warrant freezing $1.5 billion of annual financial aid.
The hypocrisy of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's commentary on Egypt is rich, given his own brutal response to recent peaceful protests in Istanbul. He had a point, however, when he called today for a United Nations meeting to discuss the violence in Egypt, and for Western countries to show their commitment to democracy by responding more forcefully to the indiscriminate killing of civilians in Cairo.
(Marc Champion is a Bloomberg View editorial board member. Follow him on Twitter.)