x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Day of violence must not defeat Egypt's promise

Egypt has a choice. Will it choose yesterday's bloodshed or the dynamism of the eclectic collection of its citizens calling for reform?

The promise of Egypt's protests for many, regardless of their politics, was in how they broke from a painful history. Arab youth was empowered. Women joined their brothers, friends, and fathers, staking their claim on Egypt's future. And together, rather than resort to violence, they demanded change through peaceful means.

But yesterday the carnival-like atmosphere in Cairo's Tahrir Square was replaced with carnage. The faces of many Egyptian demonstrators, so exuberant during seven days of protests, now dripped with blood. Instead of slogans about what Egypt could become, its people cursed one another.

Hosni Mubarak's announcement late on Tuesday that he would step down in September did not put an end to the protests. But while the Egyptian president called for dialogue with the demonstrators, his supporters brought aggression. Egypt had to "choose between chaos and stability", Mr Mubarak said; some of his allies made their choice clear. By inciting violence and stoking anger, they found a strange way to bolster their president's legacy and show loyalty to their country.

The army that kept Cairo calm in the past week could not keep men on horses and camels from trying to attack the peaceful protesters. As night began to fall, Molotov cocktails were tossed from roof-tops. Fire threatened the 120,000 artefacts in the Egyptian Museum, as if to underscore how the violence could stain the country's history.

But Egypt's inheritance from the current unrest does not have to be more of yesterday's violence. Egypt has a choice. Will it choose yesterday's bloodshed? Or will it choose the dignity and dynamism of a new Egypt, on display in the eclectic collection of those calling for reform? They were students and professionals, men and women, members of both the elite and the working class, standing side by side, and standing together out of concern for their country's future. It is that spirit that must be the foundation of how Egypt moves forward, no matter who is at its helm.

Egypt's heritage is deeper than one day's events, one movement, or one leader. And to meet the challenges that Egypt faces as a nation, from unemployment and corruption to endemic poverty, the effort must be generational. Addressing these challenges cannot wait any longer. Yesterday's painful history must not get in the way of Egypt beginning that effort today.