Editorial: How Not to Save Egypt

Egyptian soldiers stand guard as protestors opposing president Mohamed Mursi chant slogans during a demonstration at the Presidential Palace on December 18, 2012 in Cairo, Egypt. DANIEL BEREHULAK/Getty Images

Egyptian soldiers stand guard as protestors opposing president Mohamed Mursi chant slogans during a demonstration at the Presidential Palace on December 18, 2012 in Cairo, Egypt. DANIEL BEREHULAK/Getty Images

It was clear from day one that President Mohamed Mursi and his government would face a daunting task at the helm of the Egyptian state. Hosni Mubarak’s civil order was mostly imposed through fear and coercion; political participation was a luxury enjoyed by only a select few. More significantly, the former president’s late economic reforms never managed to narrow the colossal gap between a rich minority and the millions of poor.

Today, Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood are struggling to overcome the burden of Mubarak’s legacy. There were high expectations on the street after the former president was deposed, but these were soon shattered by the failure of Mursi and the Brotherhood to rule by consensus. A crucial example of this is the semi-democratic, semi-dictatorial process that led to the adoption of the new Egyptian constitution.

The number of Mursi and Brotherhood detractors seems to be growing by the day. Many accuse Mursi’s government of ineptitude; others say it is a vehicle that will allow the Brotherhood to eventually establish a caliphate. In a time of deep polarization within Egyptian society, the notion that the army will eventually be forced to intervene has gained ground among opposition groups and pundits.

This possibility—which was not too long ago considered a conspiracy theory—is now being voiced by those critical of Mursi and the Brotherhood, including a few prominent commentators, as the only way out of Egypt’s downward spiral. Their assumption is, roughly, that Egypt’s political, economic and security situation will continue to deteriorate to a point where the army will be forced to intervene to impose order, overthrowing the existing government. The army would then oversee a period of transition, which would culminate in the formation of a government of national unity to rule by consensus.

The potential negative consequences of military meddling are great, and the lack of serious reflection on the issue is cause for concern. An army intervention would set a very dangerous and unwelcome precedent, one too typical in the Middle East, and extinguish the democratic ideal that took root in Egypt two years ago.

No one can predict how the Brotherhood, the Salafists and their supporters would react to such a move. Although they lack the conventional military power to take on the army, the ensuing tensions and acts of violence could propel a crisis that would undermine any possibility of an agreement between Egypt’s various political factions.

The good news is that the military leadership has remained silent on this issue, thus averting unhelpful rumors. Hopefully, the military will remain on the sidelines and allow the democratic process to run its course, for the sake of Egypt’s future.


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