The current violence in Syria and Egypt is sickening, and the divisions that fuel it appear massive, worsening, and possibly intractable.
Egypt, the second country to contribute to the “Arab Spring,” installed its first democratically elected president in June 2012. He was Mohammed Morsi and he hailed from the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic party that had been harassed and outlawed during the 30-year reign of President Hosni Mubarak.
Although Morsi and the Brotherhood had once openly defined themselves as militantly Islamist — calling for sharia law, violent jihad, and duty to Allah — they toned down their rhetoric and softened their rigid identity during the open and free elections for Egypt’s parliament and the presidency. They portrayed themselves as newly compromising and willing to accept the fluid and anti-authoritarian ways that are required of participants for democracy to work.
Unfortunately, President Morsi never lived up to the standards of practice obligatory on the leader of a country with a wide range of political and religious beliefs. Instead of inclusive efforts to create unity in the badly fractured nation, he worked to increase and consolidate the power of the Brotherhood. At the same time, he neglected to focus on the important issues of poverty, employment, industry, energy, infrastructure and the economy.
Egypt, with a population of about 84 million, is now struggling in every way, and routine problems like gasoline and electricity shortages are combining with the disappointments of a people who had expected an entirely new type of government — one that would promote liberty for all within a pluralistic context.
The military now has removed Morsi from power and dissolved the parliament and the constitution. It has appointed an interim president. What makes these developments so painful is that the military — ironically the most stable force in Egypt — had to negate the results of popular elections.