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Can Egypt avoid a civil war?
The interim government promises a quick return to democracy. Islamists want a quick return of Mohamed Morsi
 
Time is running out.
Time is running out. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood is rejecting the interim government's plan for a transition back to democracy, and urging its supporters to rise up against the military-backed leaders. The Islamist group — which dominated Egypt's political life under Mohamed Morsi, the elected president ousted by the army last week — said the interim president, Adly Mansour, has zero legitimacy.

Mansour has called for restoring elected civilian rule within six months, with a referendum on amendments to the suspended constitution to be followed by parliamentary and then presidential elections. He is cobbling together a cabinet, and his defense minister is warning critics not to challenge the path back to democracy.

The surging tensions are stoking fears of civil war. Is there any way to bring Egypt back from the brink?

Thomas Friedman says in The New York Times that the only way to stabilize Egypt is to make it clear that the Muslim Brotherhood will be allowed to be a full participant in the transition back to democracy, no matter how angry non-Islamist, secular, and liberal Egyptians are at the Brotherhood and its ally, Morsi, for trying to exclude them.

In every civil war there is a moment before all hell breaks loose when there is still a chance to prevent a total descent into the abyss. Egypt is at that moment...

So now there is only one way for Egypt to avoid the abyss:The military, the only authority in Egypt today, has to make clear that it ousted the Muslim Brotherhood for the purpose of a "reset," not for the purposes of "revenge" — for the purpose of starting over and getting the transition to democracy right this time, not for the purpose of eliminating the Brotherhood from politics. [New York Times]

If there is a consensus as Egypt unravels, it is that there is not much time to avert disaster. Mansour knows this, which is why he mapped out such a swift return to democracy. The National, a newspaper in the United Arab Emirates, says in an editorial that "speed is essential if Egypt's discord is to be channeled back into the political sphere before the situation tumbles out of control."

Mansour's transition plan is "barely possible," The National says, because the economy is in shambles, the Muslim Brotherhood has signaled its total opposition, and the only Islamist party to back Morsi's overthrow, Al Nour, is now boycotting the process.

"Still," The National says, "if Mr. Mansour's cabinet and constitutional panel adopt a conciliatory approach, popular support may follow."

Those counting on peace should perhaps brace for the worst, because Morsi's most ardent backers say the only way out of the crisis is to reinstate him. Evan Hill at Foreign Policy says members of the Brotherhood and other Islamists "have settled in for a long fight," staging sit-ins at mosques and protesting in Cairo's streets.

Morsi's supporters tell Foreign Policy that they once trusted the army's chief, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, but now view him as a traitor for pushing the elected leader from power. Aisha Ibrahim, a housewife wearing a niqab and a green headband reading "yes to legitimacy," tells Foreign Policy that after Monday's massacre of more than 50 Morsi supporters by soldiers, there can be no negotiations with the military. "After what happened? Never, never," she says. "What should happen is that Doctor Morsi returns."

Still, not everyone thinks the situation will devolve into a true civil war. One reason, says Laura Dean at The New Republic, is nobody would stand a chance against Egypt's military.

The Egyptian army is powerful, and though it might provoke here or deliberately refuse to act there, it nevertheless would not allow a full-blown civil war. This would defeat the military's central objective of cementing its own authority. And it is not clear that the Brotherhood would be willing to call on its supporters to take up arms or could marshal enough support to take on a force as powerful and apparently united as the Egyptian Army...

There's also a very large but silent Egyptian majority — as there always is — which thus far has stayed home. Only a very small percentage of Egyptians have been involved in clashes and the vast majority just want stability. [The New Republic]

 
Harold Maass is a contributing editor at TheWeek.com. He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami HeraldFox News, and ABC News.

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