x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Egypt needs to step back and let friends help

Even if unity in Egypt seems like a distant prospect, it must be pursued. The alternative is unthinkable

The state of emergency imposed in Egypt after the deadly crackdown on Wednesday might seem like an unwelcome return to the era of Hosni Mubarak, who used a 30-year state of emergency to crush dissent.

But after more than 500 deaths as the security forces cleared camps occupied by supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi, the state of emergency and curfew ought to be viewed as an opportunity for all the parties to take a step back.

It is also a time for the friends of Egypt in the region - and particularly in the Gulf, where there are important groups that have significant influence on each side of the dispute - to step in to help change the trajectory the country is now on.

It is an unfortunate truism that it is far easier to foster divisions and hatred within a society than it is to stop them once the dispute turns violent. This is why Egypt is currently on a dangerous course.

Until recently, the United States would have been expected to play a key role in developing a suitable path towards a prosperous future in Egypt. Now, all sides of the political divide exhibit a palpable distrust for the US, making the role of the GCC nations all the more influential during the month-long state of emergency.

Much work will need to be done. One only needs to look around other recently troubled areas of this region and towards examples from history to see the difficulty of stopping a conflict once blood has been shed.

In Algeria, Lebanon, Syria and elsewhere, a cycle of escalating retaliatory violence became embedded, showing that the ease of inflaming societal divisions is inversely proportional to the prospects of then trying to cool them down.

Looking further afield - to places like Northern Ireland and the Balkans - provides yet more evidence of why the politics of division is such a dangerous policy to pursue.

While it is clear the situation of the pro-Morsi camps at Rabaa Al Adawiya mosque and Nahda Square had to be dealt with by the authorities, the level of violence demonstrated on Wednesday makes the path back to stability and peace more difficult but not impossible.

Even if unity in Egypt seems like a distant prospect, that should not mean it is not worth pursuing. The alternative is unthinkable - for Egypt and the region.