x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Fear is the worst enemy as Egypt moves ahead

Egypt is a compass for the region; where its Arab Spring leads, many will follow. Part of the promise of the revolution - as arduous as the road may be - is to find more durable solutions to problems such as sectarian divide and extremism.

Rumour, innuendo and rabble-rousing - such has been the tinder of sectarian clashes in Egypt in recent months. There has been an increasing trend of violence since the fall of the Mubarak regime in February, more often than not blamed on an illicit love affair or speculation about a religious conversion. These are not events that should foment a war, but they have been effective in inciting a few skirmishes.

As a result, we have seen churches burnt in Cairo and running street battles between Muslims and Christians, a sad sight as the country tries to negotiate a new political and social order. But these are based on provocations - meant to breed fear and distrust - that Egyptians should be strong enough to withstand.

Many people's fears were encapsulated last week by Egypt's Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, who warned of a civil war that could last for more than a decade. The ruling military council has also made statements about growing unrest, although to its credit security forces have acted quickly to arrest rioters.

There has been a recent lack of direction in Egypt's revolution, which was born amid so much optimism. While warnings of civil war are overblown, it is the uncertainty that keeps the fear alive.

Some Egyptians are anxious about an "Iraq model" of sectarian violence and talk of businessmen loyal to the former regime encouraging sectarianism. Others are anxious about an "Algerian model" in which the military would stage a coup if Islamists win the elections. An "Iranian model" is also feared with the rise of Salafism.

It will be the "Egypt model" that prevails, although no one knows quite what that will be. The majority of Egyptians support a peaceful transition to democracy. We believe that they will recognise their strengths: a society that largely shares the same experience and the same dreams.

At the same time, the sectarian divide and Salafism are not a product of recent events; they have existed for centuries but the revolution has brought them to the fore. Instead of keeping them under tight control as the Mubarak regime did in the past, Egyptians should deal with them and move forward. Part of the promise of the revolution - as arduous as the road may be - is to find more durable solutions to these problems.

Egypt is a compass for the region; where its Arab Spring leads, many will follow. The outcome of the next few months leading up to elections will be felt far outside its borders.