Egypt deserves better
Egypt's dance with democracy has become a tragic failure. The optimism of the Arab Spring movement has been lost beneath a flow of blood that may yet carry the nation to all-out civil war.
Close to 1,000 people have died since the military government entered protest camps on Aug. 14 and turned army guns on protesters in brutal attacks that killed some 600 citizens. There is no justification for that massacre. It was orchestrated by military leaders that had ousted democratically elected president Mohammed Morsi and assumed power a month earlier.
The dead were primarily supporters of Morsi, currently in jail, who are members of the Islamist organization Muslim Brotherhood. They want Morsi released and reinstalled to build an Egypt governed by Islamic law, an objective understandably opposed by most secular Muslims and Christian Egyptians and the reason the military acted against Morsi.
During his brief time in office, Morsi demonstrated no inclination to draft a constitution and construct an inclusive democracy founded on universal human rights and religious freedom. He failed his people. Egypt's large Coptic Christian community, along with other advocates of a pluralistic society, justifiably felt excluded and threatened by the direction Morsi proposed, and they shed no tears when he was toppled.
Now in the wake of the military crackdown, those minority groups have been targeted by Muslim Brotherhood supporters. Christians, in particular, have been assaulted and killed, and their churches, schools and other institutions have been looted and burned. They opposed Morsi's Islamic vision for Egypt and, for that, they are being made to pay.
Such widespread loss of life is deplorable, but another victim as the violence escalates is Egyptian democracy itself. The military's ferocious response to protests that had been generally peaceful raises serious concern about its pledge for new elections and a quick return to democratic rule. The generals obviously have a distaste for such fundamental democratic principles as peaceful assembly and dissenting opinion. Additionally, it has become a legitimate fear that the eye-for-an-eye response by the Muslim Brotherhood will provide a pretext for the military to dig in for a long term of iron-fisted rule.
Egypt deserves better. The uprising that deposed Hosni Mubarak was a bold and courageous movement intended to give birth to a nation committed to freedom and equality. Morsi betrayed that objective. But Egyptians are entitled to a second chance to get it right.
For that to happen, however, the interim military government must commit to a timetable for near-term democratic elections. Egyptians need to determine their own fate. Then whoever is elected must acknowledge and respect the nation's cultural and religious diversity while drafting a constitution based on freedom and equality for all Egyptians.
(This unsigned editorial was published in the Aug. 22 issue of The Catholic Register, the Toronto-based national Catholic Canadian newspaper.)
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