The Guardian

Monday 8 July 2013

In the past 10 days, the security forces became a major instigator of disorder and violence

However the shooting at a Muslim Brotherhood sit-in outside the Republican Guard club in Cairo started – and there are wildly conflicting accounts: the Brotherhood called it “a massacre” shortly after dawn prayers, while the army said it responded to a “terrorist” attack – it is indisputable that 51 people died and more than 300 people were injured in what has become the deadliest single clash since the fall of Hosni Mubarak. According to our body count, more Egyptians have been killed and injured in two weeks of protests than in one year under Mohamed Morsi. The argument that the army had to go in to restore order when it staged its coup has been shown to be fallacious. In the past 10 days, the security forces became a major instigator of disorder and violence. The army also became wholly partisan, handing out orange juice and cold water to one side and firing bullets at the other.

No sooner did the news break than the country’s interim leadership began to shed political cover. Three major players either switched sides or threatened to: the Salafist al-Nour party withdrew from talks about a transitional government; Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, the Islamist leader who left the Muslim Brotherhood last year, called on the interim president to resign; and the country’s most senior Muslim cleric, al-Azhar’s grand imam, Ahmed al-Tayeb, threatened to walk out. His most senior adviser, a respected and non-partisan scholar, publicly rejected the offer to participate in the proposed national reconciliation commission, saying that no conciliation was possible until everybody, who had been arrested – including Morsi – had been freed, and until the killing stopped. He is right. This has to happen before any talks can take place.

The boycott that the sheikh and others announced on Monday means that there is no Islamist force left supporting the military regime’s attempts to set up a transitional government. It may mean that the popular mood remains hostile in large areas of Cairo and other cities to the return of Morsi as president, but the fact remains that the political alliance behind the National Salvation Front and other supporters of the army coup has crumbled. Excluding the Islamists, who constitute a substantial part of the electorate, comes at a high price. The legitimate criticism of Morsi is that he failed to ruled on behalf of all Egyptians. With the current political breakup, the task of unifying the nation has become hugely more difficult after the past 48 hours.

This leaves Egypt swinging like a coach that has smashed through the safety barriers and has come to a halt with its front wheels dangling over the edge of ravine. The Brotherhood, thinking that its numbers will be swollen by the defections, has called for an uprising, adding later that it should remain peaceful. If it saw little reason before Monday morning’s events to make life easier for the military who deposed its president and ordered mass arrests of its senior leadership, it sees even less reason to play ball now. We can only expect the tactic of sit-ins, mass civil disobedience and repeated demonstrations to continue, particularly during Ramadan, which starts on Wednesday.

Two hours after sundown, Muslims gather every night at the mosque for the evening prayer, which becomes a natural magnet for large gatherings. This religious practice naturally favours what has become the Islamist opposition, who will have large numbers in the streets each night, whatever happens. The imminence of Ramadan provided one reason for the timing of the coup, which was expected to establish new facts on the ground before opposition could be organised. The army gambled that the Muslim Brotherhood would go quietly back to prison, and it failed. It now has a major fight on its hands just to keep control of the country.

The army’s claim to be protector of all Egyptians is disintegrating before our eyes. Before it loses its cohesion – and there are reports of unrest in its lower ranks – it should back down, because even worse might follow.

Source: The Guardian.