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Civil war in the offing?

The repression of the Muslim Brothers brings Egypt close to armed confrontation

If anyone still harbored any doubts over the military coup that overthrew President Mohamed Morsi in July, in terms of how far the army was willing to go to retain power, they were bloodily and brutally cleared up on Wednesday. Egypt is now seeing a re-run of the script enacted in Algeria 20 years ago, when the army violently intervened between the first and second round of the democratic elections that were about to give the victory to the Islamic Salvation Front, thus opening the door to a hellish civil war that cost the North African country more than 150,000 lives.

The responsibility for Wednesday's massacre lies above all with the authorities who ordered the forcible dispersion of the camps installed by the Muslim Brothers in two squares in Cairo, where they had been demanding the impossible restoration of the presidency to Morsi, who had done everything possible to merit his loss of it after obtaining a clear majority in the ballot boxes. The Muslim Brotherhood sought the most violent possible confrontation with the army, once it had lost the power it did not know how to handle. But it was the responsibility of the interim government and the army to resist the provocation on the part of Morsi's partisans, who were (and remain) all too ready for martyrdom in the name of their leader.

A civil war not only pits some of a country's citizens against one another; it divides everyone, obliging each person to take sides, in many cases with extreme reluctance, in favor of whatever seems to be the lesser evil. This is what is now happening among the secular sectors of Egyptian society that promoted the revolution against Mubarak, and, even more traumatically, among the Coptic Christian minority, persecuted and vilified by the Brothers. In the end, between radicalized violent Islamism and the army, there was no breathing space left for anyone.

The international community also finds itself split between condemnation of the regime's criminal behavior, and fear of the violent drift of Islamism, which was again apparent on Wednesday in the destruction and burning of Coptic churches. It will be hard for the United States to go on looking the other way, without applying the sanctions its own legislation provides for in cases in which a head of government is deposed by force — given that, after all, the Egyptian officers are its allies, and are the force that ensures compliance with the agreements with Israel.

Though the European Union's mission calling for dialogue has already failed, having come up against the Islamists' intransigence concerning Morsi's restoration to the presidency, nothing can ever be built in Egypt with the Muslim Brothers in a state of insurrection. But to reestablish dialogue with political Islamism is something that now seems easier for Turkey and Qatar than for Washington and Brussels. Turkey's Prime Minister Erdogan and the Qatari emir have in the past supported the Brotherhood — which Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait pointedly have not — and they are now probably among the few friends of Morsi's grouping who can help to save them from themselves.

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