The massacre on Saturday in the streets of Cairo at the hands of security forces and some snipers of dozens of followers of the deposed president Mohamed Morsi brings Egypt to the brink of chaos two years after the fall of the dictator Hosni Mubarak. The crescendo of bloodshed and the lies of the provisional government, which has been repeating, against all evidence and until the last moment, that its forces were using tear gas and not bullets, is frustrating any possible negotiated solution to the crisis initiated by the military coup which, with widespread support especially among secular sectors, ousted the government of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The events of this weekend show that the Egyptian generals have frankly set aside their supposed role as neutral arbiters. There is no other way to explain the irresponsibility with which, in a convulsed and divided country, the strongman and defense minister, General Sisi, on Friday called on the public to take to the streets to support, under the name of the fight against terrorism, what everyone understood to be an escalation of repression against the Muslim Brotherhood.
On that same day Morsi, who is being held incommunicado in an unknown place, was accused of conspiring with the Palestinian group Hamas to have himself violently broken out of prison in 2011. This is an accusation which many experts consider unsustainable, but which does formalize the Islamist leader’s arrest, and gives legal coverage to the armed forces against the international pressures calling for his release.
The size of Egypt and its influence in the Arab world render the drift of the situation there all the more alarming. Recent events in Cairo threaten to exacerbate the political climate across the rest of North Africa, where the spiral of violence in Tunisia (the murders, in less than six months, of two secular politicians opposed to the Islamist government) and the worsening instability of Libya, stand as reminders to the overly optimistic that the Arab Spring has not taken root overnight. The countries of the region are learning painfully that to build a system of liberties, however modest, is a task far more complex than that of holding elections or calling crowds onto the street.
Morsi was democratically elected, but his doctrinaire government made nonsense of the term. The generals who, riding a wave of popular indignation, deposed first Mubarak, and now his Islamist successor, have no greater credibility. The death toll in less than a month has risen to hundreds, and the number of injured to thousands.
Egypt is ceasing to be the open and inclusive society that the secular parties participating in the government say they desire, while they remain strangely silent concerning the unacceptable excesses of the army. The most influential Arab country imperatively needs a negotiated solution to banish the specter of civil conflict. This means an agreement which would demand the general renunciation of any kind of violence, and which would be impossible without the inclusion of the Muslim Brotherhood — who, after all, won a more or less ample victory in the only free elections the country has known.