Egypt: on the brink of disaster | Editorial

It is, to say the least, ironic that the African Union called the coup for what it was and, notably, the European Union did not

Millions of Egyptians took to the streets earlier this week with legitimate complaints about Mohamed Morsi. They accused him of monopolising power, of assaulting the separation of powers between the presidency and the judiciary, of bearing down on journalists, and ruining the economy. These were genuine concerns after just one year and the throng was swelled by the deep resentment the Muslim Brotherhood itself had generated. This explosion was a long time coming.

Yesterday, however, hundreds of thousands more were on the streets demanding his restoration. Whether or not Mr Morsi had been good or bad, he had been their choice and they were being robbed of it. If you can take to the streets, they were saying, we can take to them too, and they did in provinces all over Egypt. That is one of the consequences of deciding the fate of regimes with military coups, however popular. Once you stage a coup once, you can stage another one again. Once parliaments are dissolved and constitutions suspended, the street becomes the only arbiter of legitimacy. It is, to say the least, ironic that the African Union called the coup for what it was and, notably, the European Union did not.

As the deaths and injuries from street clashes and shootings rose, it is not difficult to see where this will end up. The stakes are huge, not just for Egypt but for the Arab world as a whole. Before the disaster of major civil unrest in the Arab world’s most populous country unfolds, two things must be done. All parties must be included in the transition and elections must be held as soon as possible. This is a matter of deeds as well as words. It is little use for the judge who has been propelled into the position of being the country’s new interim president, Adly Mansour, to reach out to members of the Muslim Brotherhood, and to call it part of the fabric of society, when 300 Brotherhood officials have been arrested and warrants have been issued for its entire top leadership. In the jargon of such operations, this is called decapitation. It is designed to cripple an organisation and prevent it from organising legitimate opposition.

Inviting the army in may yet prove to be one of the biggest mistakes that the demonstration in Tahrir Square made. The military only agreed to allow presidential elections to take place after the fall of Hosni Mubarak because a majority of its top staff realised they could not control the country on their own. That conclusion is even truer today, as the protest against the coup multiplies. The army is not protecting any revolution by opening fire on fellow Egyptian citizens – whoever they may be. It is imperilling it. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds