It has been said that Egyptians are like the River Nile: Mostly placid, but when it flows, it really flows. Egyptians are not normally violent. Unlike the Lebanese, their reaction to events is measured rather than governed by emotion. Their indefatigable sense of humor in the face of dire situations is well known.
In this light, the brutal clashes in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and elsewhere are among the most depressing events in the region over the last few turbulent years.
Egypt is the backbone of the Middle East. With a population of more than 80 million – by far the largest in the Arab world – the country has always dominated the region socially, politically and culturally. Even pop stars could find no fame unless they first went to Egypt.
So the immense international concern shown over the spiraling events there is not misplaced. There will be no undoing the cataclysmic damage done to this part of the world if Egypt too descends into civil war.
And yet the distance between the two sides’ perspectives is wider than ever.
The Muslim Brotherhood feel they fairly won a democratic election and have been illegally ousted from power. They did, and they have.
Their opponents feel Mohammad Morsi’s fallen government ignored their concerns, and that his removal would usher in better times. It did, but it hasn’t.
To an extent, Morsi’s supporters have invited this upon themselves. Many of the Brotherhood’s leaders have purposefully whipped up this frenzy, calling on Egyptians to free the country from military chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi’s clammy grasp. They have largely been the victims of the recent violence, but that does not mean they are blameless.
The camps set up in Cairo and elsewhere disrupt normal life, and prevent the country from moving on from the turmoil of last month.
Just how Egypt will move on remains unclear. All that we know is that Egyptians must be left to manage their own affairs. We already have one country suffering the effects of a regional proxy war. Qatar, Turkey, the United States, Europe – all these countries must stick to their statements, and leave their meddling for another time. The only help Egypt needs is to build a rapprochement between the two sides.
Buried amid all of this are the country’s Christians, who account for some 10 percent of Egyptians. Several churches have already been attacked – to let this cycle of violence snowball further would be to risk another sectarian war, another killing field.
The Egyptian army is for every citizen. It desperately needs to realize that continuing with its policy of brutally sidelining a large portion of society is tearing the country apart. Spilling blood will not make the Brotherhood’s supporters go away. Now is the time for compromise and finding a common ground. The whole region will feel the effects if Egypt does not succeed in this.