x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Brutality in Tahrir begins to define Egypt's outlook

Egyptians and their neighbours fear for the country's stability, and in particular an economic recovery that is impossible in this climate.

The images from Tahrir Square from the past three days are frightening for Egypt's future. A young woman, partially stripped of her clothes, dragged along the ground and beaten by security forces; soldiers throwing stones and urinating onto protesters from the roof of a building; and the Scientific Museum, home to an archive including 200-year-old documents, gutted by fire. Ten months after the revolution, the violence being carried out in the full public eye doesn't seem to lessen.

The protesters occupying the square have been demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri. Egypt has larger problems than an elderly politician who has been in office barely three weeks, although Mr Ganzouri has already thoroughly discredited himself by denying the images that are being recorded on the streets. The larger issue for the country, however, is that its military, its image and its future are being defined by acts of stunning brutality.

Many in Cairo are deeply weary of the protests and angered by the continued occupation of the square. For many Egyptians, this recent violence, particularly the loss of the Scientific Museum, will confirm their belief that the protests worsen instability.

Never mind that similar protests overthrew a dictator and still gain widespread support across society - as long as the protesters remain peaceful, as they generally do unless attacked, there is no choice but to cede the square to them.

The military should know by now that use of excessive force against peaceful protests is not just morally reprehensible, it is also ineffective. (And it is not just Egyptian authorities who must realise this.) The stark brutality on display on Saturday will create lasting enmities and the potential for instability. As one example, there has been speculation that one young veiled woman was deliberately stripped as a warning to other female protesters. The same was said about "virginity tests" when female protesters were assaulted by security forces earlier in the year.

Egyptians and their neighbours fear for the country's stability, and in particular an economic recovery that is impossible in this climate. The Muslim Brotherhood has denounced the clashes and hinted at anti-democratic provocateurs. Certainly, the protesters themselves have put their political demands above immediate stability. But it is the generals who must rein in this violence, because the security forces on the street clearly cannot.