Having gone to such trouble to reinvent itself as a democracy, Egypt has tired of the idea with unwarranted haste. Indeed, the country seems to have embarked on a headlong rush back to the future. Yesterday, the Tahrir Square revolutionaries were being asked by the army high command to come out into the streets once more to give them a mandate to confront what it calls “terrorists”.
The call is a dangerous one and this is a dangerous moment, the more so because the Muslim Brotherhood, from which President Morsi emerged, was also asking its supporters to protest yesterday. Thankfully, at least some anti‑Morsi protesters appeared reluctant to do General al Sisi’s bidding, growing sceptical of their de facto partnership with the army. “Friday’s protests are only asking us to turn a blind eye to whatever [the army] may do next,” one remarked.
Such scepticism must be good news. The biggest danger Egypt faces is an escalation of present hostilities into all-out civil war. The risk is lessened by the apparent absence of a significant militia contingent among the pro-Morsi forces. Similarly, although the former President’s supporters have staged daily protests, their numbers are small compared to their adversaries.
On Friday, a judge claimed legal justification for Mr Morsi’s detention, on the basis that his escape from jail in 2011 was aided by foreign Hamas and Hezbollah militants. Given that Mr Morsi is already in prison – “kidnapped”, says his family – the timing of the charges was provocative. Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood shows little inclination to take part in the transitional arrangements backed by the army.
The international community is in a difficult position. Mr Morsi was far from perfect as a leader. But he was democratically elected and had, for all his faults, not yet committed the egregious constitutional abuses that might justify his arbitrary removal. The events of his removal were, therefore, a coup. Yet the US refused to designate it as such, in order to hold on to the leverage afforded by its massive aid to the Egyptian army. So far, however, there is little sign of any achievement. And all the while, the cracks in Egyptian society are yawning ever wider.