x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Calm heads must prevail in Egypt

After the events of the past few days in Egypt, the task for reconciliation has been made considerably more difficult.

At first blush, the rival demonstrations across Egypt on Friday might seem to have been a crude form of street democracy, with the people voting with their feet to show whether ousted president Mohammed Morsi or the military had the majority's backing. But such a view would be facile and is unhelpful at a delicate time for Egypt's democracy.

Removing a democratically-elected president is never an ideal option and especially for a nation emerging from decades of iron-rule dictatorship. But having gone down that road, the only way a new and stable Egypt will emerge is for calm voices and cool heads to prevail as the nation proceeds to a new round of constitution formation, and then on to electing a parliament and a president.

As we said after General Abdel Fattah El Sisi, the defence minister, made his call for "all honest and trustworthy Egyptians" to protest on Friday to give him a mandate to combat terrorism, such language is inflammatory. He should have realised that sending people to the streets would be easy but bringing them back would prove to be enormously difficult. Talk of dispersing protests "with minimum losses" can make matters far worse.

The pro- and anti-Morsi sides each claimed numerical superiority, so little was resolved and Egypt is an even more divided nation than it had been before. This is not the way forward

Nor has this been the first ham-fisted move by the military since the June 30 protests led it to remove Mr Morsi. The former president's detention has been at best unhelpful and the shooting of more than 50 pro-Morsi demonstrators outside the Republican Guard headquarters three weeks ago and the deaths yesterday risk destroying the military's claim to be an impartial broker working in the nation's interests.

Nobody expected the Muslim Brotherhood to happily accept a place in the transitional government, as was offered to them, because it would be a tacit acceptance of their downfall. Instead, the Brotherhood has embarked on an all-or-nothing approach by refusing to countenance reconciliation, with potentially disastrous results for everyone.

Every effort has to be made to involve them in the way forward - after all, the Brotherhood reflects a sizeable proportion of Egyptian society. Sadly, after the events of the past few days, that task has been made considerably more difficult.