Egyptian Army Kills 51 Protesters

Yesterday, the Egyptian army opened fire on a crowd of protesters who support ousted President Mohammed Morsi. The army claimed the protesters fired first, but the protesters deny that. Regardless, 51 lay dead in the street and more than 300 were wounded. This was not a single soldier losing his cool. It was an entire unit taking their safeties off and pulling their triggers. Egypt has gone over the edge.

So long as the army stayed in barracks, there was a chance for civilian politics. Once the military moved against Mr. Morsi last week, the strains created undermined the entire political process. Now that the army had killed the people it is supposed to defend, this cannot end well for Egypt.

In an attempt to move things along, Interim President Adly Mansour said there would be a formal inquiry into the shootings. In addition, he proposed a timeline to re-establish elected government and a new constitution. According to his plan, the army could hand over everything in seven months’ time.

The Muslim Brotherhood, the primary backers of President Morsi, are having none of it. The BBC reports “Leading Brotherhood figure Essam al-Erian says the plan for constitutional changes and a vote next year ‘brings the country back to square one’.” And in truth, he’s right; Egypt had a civilian constitution, an elected president and an elected parliament until the army made its move. Mr. Manour’s plan would simply restore the status quo ante, but with leadership more palatable to the army,

The Muslim Brotherhood now has 51 new martyrs (their word) and protests will continue. The army has managed to pour gasoline on a fire rather than put it out. The Brotherhood now has absolutely no reason to negotiate, and from what one can see of their protests at noon prayers, they are in no mood to talk until President Morsi is back in charge. Even if the leadership takes a calm and responsible line, the Brotherhood is a large organization, and in any large group, there are men who act rather than think. One cannot rule out more violence this summer.

There are now no good options in Egypt. If Mr. Morsi does not return to power, the Brotherhood will continue to make Egypt ungovernable. If he does, the army will be purged, and the generals won’t allow that to happen without a severe defeat of some kind. It’s far too early to use the term “civil war” because Egypt isn’t that far gone yet. However, it no longer requires the leap of imagination that it did just two weeks ago.