The continuing unrest in Egypt is deeply disturbing. The military’s Ruling Council is being blamed for using excessive force against protesters especially women.
However, the question is if the protesters can be exempted from blame, considering the vandalism and lawlessness that has been witnessed over the past many days. Particularly appalling is the burning down of a priceless collection of books and manuscripts at the Institute d’Egypte — a research center set up by Napoleon Bonaparte during France’s invasion of Egypt in the late 18th century — in the fire that started during clashes between the military and protesters. While investigation on how the fire started is underway the damage done may be irreversible.
More worrisome for the military is the challenge of maintaining stability in such a charged atmosphere. A three-week sit down by protesters demanding the stepping down of the Ruling Council has now entered a violent phase. The same Tahrir Square where thousands of Egyptians brought about the fall of former president Hosni Mubarak is now witness to a second phase in the revolution. This time around it is the military that is in the protesters’ range of fire. While the military has treated past protests with less severity, it seems to have lost patience this time around. Egypt has already successfully held two rounds of elections that have seen Islamist parties particularly the Muslim Brotherhood obtaining majority votes. With the final phase of elections scheduled for next March, Egypt’s political process is moving in the right direction. The only contention is the continued protests against the military now deemed a threat to the country’s quest for democracy. The protesters’ main contention is the military’s powerful influence amid suspicions regarding its future role in politics.
But it seems that the military’s patience has reached a tipping point. It is probably why Major General Adel Emara, a member of the Ruling Council recently questioned the motives of the protesters. Denouncing the recent unrest as a conspiracy to “topple the state” by some parties Gen Emara also defended the right to use force for defence of state institutions.
Further trouble is expected with the government forces planning on evicting the protesters from Tahrir. The need of the hour is immediate talks between the Ruling Council, the political parties and the activist representatives. The possibility of miscreants and criminals joining the bandwagon to spread anarchy and lawlessness cannot be ruled out. This is a time when all sides must engage in talks to defuse the tensions and put an end to violence that may put the elections in jeopardy and thus stall the political process.