There is something deeply worrying about the current spate of protests in Egypt. They look less like a continuation of the revolution that erupted two years ago and less like expressions of a genuine demand for more freedom and democracy. The mass demonstrations and violence sweeping the country are causing worry because those running amok on the streets are disgruntled and impatient youth who want to bring change by use of force. According to some reports, they are gangs of hooligans and remnants of the former regime’s security forces and police. Egyptians are well aware that if these destabilising forces are not reined in, what awaits them is anarchy and chaos. The warnings are coming from all sides – inside and outside. The defence minister warned that at stake is not the future of a government and party but the country itself. Western and Arab governments too have started worrying. Egypt is too important an Arab country to let it plunge into chaos. In the wider sense, at stake is the future of the region and that of Arab Spring. A failure of the revolution in Tahrir Square will be deeply disappointing for people in other Arab countries which are still ruled by dictators, who have been looking at Egypt as a model they can emulate.
The current fighting is between the Brotherhood-led government and the opposition that comprises of secularists and minorities. Such is the antipathy between the two that a reconciliation is not easy, and positions are hardening each day, making it extremely hard for both sides to compromise.
But despite the depth of their divisions and enmity, it’s time to accept the bitter truth that their common interest lies in putting an end to the current chaos. Both the government and the opposition are responsible for precipitating the stalemate. The government of Mohammed Mursi overused his power and under-delivered on promises. A more conciliatory and tolerant approach would have helped and prevented the crisis from worsening. At the same time, the opposition is failing to acknowledge the fact that President Mursi has won two rounds of democratic elections last year, and therefore has more legitimacy and public support than the previous regime. It’s undemocratic to overthrow such a government through violence and demonstrations, especially since the latter has agreed to look into some of the contentious issues.
The government and the opposition are neither helping themselves nor the country by letting reactionary forces rule the streets. They need to bury their differences, at least temporarily, to restore order and resuscitate the moribund economy. There are signs that both sides have begun to see reason. But we need results.