Leading article: Egypt's army must begin to honour its promises

The violence against the Coptic Christian minority is part of wider instabilities

Share

The resignation of Egypt's Finance Minister yesterday, in protest at the killing of 25 people by the army, has raised the temperature in an already overheated situation. That the largely peaceful revolution which overthrew President Hosni Mubarak – and proved such a defining moment in the Arab Spring – is in danger of descending into chaos and violence is a matter of grave concern.

The Egyptian army, which stepped in to take charge with popular support, is at the centre of the growing crisis. Sectarian tensions are rising; strikes for higher salaries have become common among public sector workers; unemployment, poverty and inflation are high and economic growth low. In a country where more than 20 per cent of the population live below the poverty line – and the very poorest rely on groups like the Muslim Brotherhood for their basic needs – the potential for trouble is growing rather than receding.

The violence against Egypt's Coptic Christian minority is in part a symptom of the wider instability. They stand to lose more than any other group in a country whose future could be anything from a liberal democracy to an Islamic republic, but where a drifting continuation of military rule looks increasingly likely.

Those killed this week were Christian demonstrators who were protesting against the burning of a church in southern Egypt. Low-level discrimination against the Copts has been common for decades but the Islamist revival in recent times has heightened tensions. Still, they were to some extent protected under the Mubarak regime, which made gestures of support to the community. It was part of Mubarak's approach to keep order using divide-and-rule tactics plus a heavy-handed security machine.

The fear is that now the oppression is lifted, inter-community violence might increase, as it did in post-Tito Yugoslavia. After the fall of Mubarak, anti-Coptic riots of growing violence broke out in various cities, and the army appeared to tolerate them. More recently, troops have looked on as churches were burned. Now the army-controlled media has been encouraging Islamist radicals to take the law into their own hands against the "Christian mob".

But that is only part of the worry about the situation in Egypt. Senior army officers have repeatedly said they wish to hand power over to civilians as soon as possible. But the timetable keeps being extended. And they are now talking of staying in office for at least a year, possibly even longer. Foreign investors were already becoming concerned by erratic economic decisions. Now a peaceful demonstration demanding justice has been crushed, leaving some protesters dead and 500 more injured.

The omens are not good. The Copts constitute up to 15 per cent of the population, but they are far better educated than the majority Muslim population. Many are fleeing the country. Some reports suggest 60,000 may have gone since Mubarak fell. Egypt as a whole will suffer if it follows the Iraqi example, where more than half of the Christian population – some 400,000 people – have been driven out in fear of Islamist pogroms.

Egypt should be a model for the right kind of change in the Arab world. That may still be possible. Political groups have come together recently and demanded that the military institute a representative civil government, ending emergency laws and the trial of civilians in military courts. They have presented four possible routes to civilian rule by the middle of next year. Egypt's top brass must now follow one of them, simplify the complex voting procedures and speed up the process of electing a president. Democracy is a delicate bloom. It will not be nurtured without the co-operation and collective efforts of all parts of Egyptian society. The process must begin soon.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Lead Teacher of Thinking School Drive Team and Year 3 Form teacher

Competitive: Notting Hill Prep School: Spring Term 2015 Innovative, ambitious ...

DT Teacher - Textiles

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Group: Design and Technology Teacher ...

European Retail Sales Manager, Consumer Products

competitive + bonus + benefits: Sauce Recruitment: My client is looking for an...

Sales Director, Media Sponsorship

£60000 - £65000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A globally successful media and ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: out of time, polling and immigration and old words

John Rentoul
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past