x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Egypt's military should play a stabilising role

Egypt's military needs to be more inclusive and make it clear it does not intend to govern Egypt if it is to be seen as a neutral player.

When, at the height of street protests in Istanbul last month, Turkey's prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned publicly that for every 100,000 protesters "I will bring together one million from my party", that one sentence raised questions about how inclusive the prime minister was, seeking to marginalise a small number of protesters and flood the streets with his supporters.

A similar question hangs over the words of Egypt's army chief Abdel Fattah El Sisi who has called for millions of Egyptians to take to the streets tomorrow. The call by Mr El Sisi came after a bomb attack in Mansoura in northern Egypt killed a police conscript and injured more than a dozen others. Mr El Sisi's justification was that Egyptians filling the streets would give him "the mandate and order [to] confront violence and potential terrorism".

Since there are suspicions that elements of the Muslim Brotherhood, or their supporters, may have carried out the attack, such language is inflammatory. Egypt is already convulsed with protests and counter-protests, leading to many deaths. It hardly needs more people taking to the streets. By calling for so many people to come on to the streets, he is putting the army firmly on the side that opposes the Muslim Brotherhood.

Mr El Sisi's words might be read to mean that the army chief, and perhaps the army, seeks a more direct role in Egypt's politics. That is a mistake. With tensions running high in Egypt, that could seem understandable but the difficulty is that it puts the army against many millions of people, some of whom support the Brotherhood and some others who were simply unhappy with how last month's power struggle played out.

The army needs to maintain its non-partisan role, clearing the way for new elections and a better constitution. As tempting as it is to enter politics, the past two years have shown Egyptians have a limited tolerance for incompetent leadership. Once policy starts to go wrong, the people will blame the army.

For the Brotherhood, too, such division offers one course: more street protests, more chaos and more violence. Without offering moderate elements of the Brotherhood a way into politics, the army is offering the Brotherhood only one path, violence and instability.

That will benefit no one. The best way forward for the army is to do what millions of Egyptians clearly want them to do: set the country on a better path than the one followed by the divisive Mohammed Morsi - and swiftly get back to their barracks.