The clock is being violently wound back in Egypt. After the democratically-elected government of Mohamed Mursi had been upstaged with minimum fuss, the military had expected his whole jingbang to disappear without much ado. It has not. There are still sit-in demonstrations and marches in favour of the elected president. The work is proving to be messy, but with the support of a deluded, confused population, Egypt’s army has got busy shooting and killing dissidents in an apparent bid to cleanse the country’s political system of Islamist influence. Hundreds have been killed in a particularly brutal bout of violence over the past week, and given that supporters of Mr Mursi and his party — an arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s most well-entrenched political organization — are in no mood to relent, the toll is bound to go up. Simply put, the Muslim Brotherhood, which is placing women and children on the frontline and retaliating by killing soldiers, will not be boxed into oblivion, and the army will not leave it in any state capable of making a political comeback. This is an old fight, now being staged in the name of democracy, and in it the odds are heavily weighed against the Muslim Brotherhood.
The reason for this is not merely because the people of Egypt are deeply divided. It is also because the international community has been unable to find the voice it has so often used to deride the use of similar violence for political suppression, as in Syria. Having failed to denounce Egypt’s military coup, the United States of America has got round to announcing the suspension of aid, as have several European countries, but the announcement of Saudi Arabia’s support for Egypt’s militarist government is bound to complicate the US’s stand. Most autocratic governments in the Arab world fear the Arab Spring for its potential of fuelling domestic trouble and are ready to kill political Islam if they have to. But both their oil and support are critical for the West, which is trying to save its strategic interests in west Asia and north Africa in a period of flux. If the West finds a way to do that without having to sacrifice the support of its rich Arab allies, Egypt will be a small price to pay.