Growing violence in Egypt sparked a protest outside the White House Sunday.
A few hundred demonstrators gathered on Pennsylvania Ave., with tourists looking on, to rail against the Egyptian military, after dozens of protesters were reportedly killed in Egypt Saturday when military forces opened fire on them.
Chanting “Yes to Morsi” and “Down, down Sisi,” referring to Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the Egyptian military leader, they demanded the reinstatement of ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi and insisted that the military takeover in Egypt is, in fact, a military coup.
The White House has resisted such a distinction.
The terminology has become politically charged, as the United States would have to cut off $1.55 billion in aid to Egypt if a coup has taken place. Under U.S. law, aid cannot go to a country whose military played a decisive role in overthrowing a democratically elected leader.
Despite the Egyptian military’s removal of Morsi, the Obama administration Wednesday told lawmakers it had not decided whether to apply that label.
But outside the White House Sunday afternoon, a line of protesters stretched 60 yards long, saying differently. A largely Muslim crowd, attendees identified themselves as Egyptian born. One young woman, a dual U.S.-Egyptian citizen, had voted for the first time in Egypt for Morsi last year.
They held Egyptian flags and signs bearing photos of Morsi and decrying the Egyptian military. One read, simply: “IT’S A MILITARY COUP.”
Others called the suppression of protesters in Egypt a “massacre.” They had come from Maryland and Virginia, but also from New York and New Jersey, some of them loading into buses to make the trip. Attendees said word of the protest spread through Muslim communities.
In the past week, clashes have erupted between the Egyptian military and protesters supporting Morsi. News outlets have reported that at least 72 protesters were killed, and hundreds injured Saturday when Egyptian forces opened fire on them, the latest in a series of confrontations.
The protest was not about Morsi, but about democracy, said its main planner, Egyptian-born Akram el-Zend, 42, who described himself as a U.S. citizen and co-founder of a group called Egyptian Americans for Democracy and Human Rights.
“They’re not only the Muslim Brotherhood, there are liberals, there are Coptics, Muslims, extremists,” el-Zend said of the military’s opponent in Egypt. “They’re all out there to reinstate the rule of law, to reinstate the constitution, and reinstate the legitimacy.”
At 8:23 p.m. – sunset and the end of the day’s Ramadan fasting – the crowd dispersed in Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House. Children handed out dates, and sandwiches were unwrapped from large foil containers.
A larger protest will be held Aug. 10, according to attendees and organizers, who promised a march at nearby Freedom Plaza and a national day of action calling for Morsi’s reinstatement.