x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Rebuilding the unity of Egypt is the first task

Egypt remains tense, but the conditions are being created that will permit a start on rebuilding a national sense of unity.

Egypt's army continues to lay legal charges against prominent members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Some have been arrested and street protests continue.

With the right moves now, Egypt's new rulers can begin the long work of reuniting the nation.

The most important news item in all of this is that a cabinet of technocrats, without political ambitions of their own, is coming together under 76-year-old economist Hazem El Beblawi, who was named prime minister last week.

El Beblawi appears to be selecting ministers on the basis of competence, not ideology - and Egypt's public life sorely needs a large dose of competence to solve its economic ills.

Brotherhood sources told reporters that there are high-level negotiations going on with the military.

That underscores the efforts to bridge the chasm that divides Egypt, and some new equilibrium may be close at hand.

Furthermore, army chief Gen Abdel Fattah El Sisi promised that the army's role would be "temporary" and reasserted that Egyptians should be free to choose their leaders.

The president the generals installed, jurist Adly Mahmud Mansour, should now reach out. He surely understands, if some top officers do not, that the Brotherhood cannot be comprehensively hounded out of public life.

To be sure, there can be no compromise with the Brotherhood's toxic mixture of politics and religion.

In power, the Brotherhood and their allies showed ominous signs of moving towards "one-man, one-vote, one-time" - that is, of using power won at the ballot box ruthlessly, to undermine real democracy and perpetuate their control. That could not be tolerated and had to stop.

But what Egypt needs now, to prepare the ground for economic growth, is stability - and that requires national reconciliation. If Islamists will show that they are ready to operate in politics under the true rules of democracy, then other political forces, and the army, should welcome them.