Culling youth

Culling youth

Philip Whitfield

Philip Whitfield

Egypt haemorrhages. Stretcher-bearers bus bodies, fallen replaced. Helicopters swoop and hover. Tormented faces agonise. None dares call it outright civil war; just as none want to admit a coup is a coup.

The memory of happier times scurrying across Tahrir Square for a bite to eat or taking in a movie in Heliopolis is fading. Why risk a bullet?

America has given up on the region. The headline in the Financial Times says Arabs have concluded that if the US is quitting, they’d better start fighting their own corners.

Right or wrong, it feels so. The EU wrings its hands. British and French bellicosity gives way to acquiescence. The rest of Europe cares little. China? Not a whit.

You’re right to ask “why?” One word: Energy. Conflict bedeviled the region for more than 100 years because of oil. We neither have eternal enemies nor eternal friends, Lord Palmerston (1784-1865) told Queen Victoria. We have eternal interests.

Those interests secured oil and gas in the Middle East, the Suez Canal and the spending spree Arabs enjoyed from the windfall.

The Middle East is being left to fend for itself now that America has discovered a new source of energy in it own backyard. As has Europe, and China: more than double both of them together.

As shale gas becomes the energy source of choice, the world will look back on oil’s century of power as nostalgically as wireless. Our grandchildren will think it quaint we pumped petrol to produce nasty fumes. They’ll live clean natural gas lives.

Blackpool sands are being dug up already. Britain won’t need to import oil and gas soon. UK surpluses will fuel the European grid. China can let Qatar stew. They’ve discovered more shale than anyone. Saudi Arabia’s derricks will be relics.

The West denies its phlegm, spouting sanctimonious twaddle. But Obama’s mien signals enough is enough. Egypt gets iron rations from now on. Palestine-Israel talks are a dead duck that Obama’s leaving for others to pick over.

The battle for the Middle East’s future pits modernists against recalcitrant Islamists.

A tweet from vice president Mohamed ElBaradei: Transitional justice and national reconciliation based on accepting the other are the only options available for Egypt. ElBaradei exposes tension between the interim government and the military: a disquieting sign.

Transitional justice seeks to redress human rights abuses in times of conflict. That would be a U-turn for Egypt, killing its young for objecting. And beginning vexatious prosecutions that inflame passions.

Transitional justice is not rounding up the usual suspects. Neither is it culling youth. Whatever the rights and wrongs, the perpetrators of violence should man up.

The Muslim Brotherhood leaders are in the safest place: prison. Where’s Morsi’s courage to sound a retreat?

The people’s bidding is to pursue peace, not vengeance. Their youth is not being raised to be Egypt’s sacrificial lamb.

Egypt is careless with history. The weekend massacre was on the street where Sadat was slain, fresh blood forming rivulets by the memorial to the Unknown Soldier and Sadat’s tomb.

Mob rule is capricious, public opinion fickle.

Proceed with caution, generals.

You may think you’re omnipotent. Napoleon did in Moscow before he was forced into the Great Retreat.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo commentator.

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