On the brink


When Egypt’s military leaders ousted the country’s first democratically-elected president last month, they insisted they were acting in support of a popular uprising against the inefficient and increasingly autocratic rule of Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood allies. Egypt’s liberals rejoiced, making common cause not only with the generals but with political remnants of Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship who now pose as secular technocrats. The overthrow of Morsi was for many liberals a continuation - or a reset - of the revolution that toppled Mubarak two years ago, offering an opportunity to draft a better, more inclusive constitution with more robust democratic institutions. In this interpretation, the army’s intervention had saved Egyptian democracy rather than overturning it.

In their treatment of the Muslim Brotherhood, however, the generals have displayed in recent weeks some of the worst characteristics of their blood-stained history and risk alienating for good a substantial section of Egyptian society. Morsi himself has been in detention since his overthrow and demonstrations in his support have been met with brutal - often lethal - force by the army. Now the generals have taken a highly perilous step, calling on Egyptians to take to the streets today to give the army “the mandate to face violence and terrorism”. The Muslim Brotherhood have condemned the call as incitement to civil war and warned that today’s demonstrations could be the prelude to an even more savage crackdown on the organisation.

The Muslim Brotherhood have learned the hard way that no single group can govern Egypt successfully without the support of a broad coalition. The generals and their secular allies are in danger of making the same mistake if they seek to exclude or marginalise the Muslim Brotherhood. They should call off today’s rallies, release Morsi immediately and make a real effort to include the Muslim Brotherhood in negotiations about Egypt’s constitutional future.

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