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Stop Egyptian crisis escalating into war

By Wang Hui | China Daily | Updated: 2013-08-23 08:30

The situation in Egypt has continued to deteriorate drastically this week with more bloodshed and no signs of reconciliation between the different political forces in the country. With a major political reshuffling underway, the road to political transition in the world's most populated Arab country now looks bumpier than ever, and this will only add more uncertainties to the crisis-ridden Middle East region.

Since Egyptian security forces began to clear out sit-ins staged by supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood last week, the ensuing violence has claimed some 1,000 lives. On Monday, suspected militants ambushed two buses carrying off-duty security forces in Egypt's northern Sinai Peninsula, killing at least 25 and injuring three others. The bloodshed came a day after 36 members of the Muslim Brotherhood died in what the authorities described as an attempted jailbreak on the outskirts of Cairo.

After the Egyptian armed forces ousted Morsi, the country's first democratically elected president, on July 3, the situation has only gone from bad to worse as the country has become mired ever deeper in a bloodbath. Yet, as if all these are not enough, news came on Monday that former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, who was toppled in February 2011 during a popular uprising, is being released this week.

Under such a backdrop, the fate of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was an important force behind the toppling of Mubarak, looks gloomy. One after another, the group's prominent figures, General Guide Mohamed Badie included, have been arrested. Members of the transitional government, established upon Morsi's ousting by the military, now openly talk about declaring the group illegal.

These dramatic changes in the country's political scene are the signs of a major political reshuffling, which is being staged in a painful way. With the pro and anti-Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood forces refusing to give ground, the hope is slim for a political transition, as promised by the country's transitional government after Morsi's ousting, to be started any time soon.

As Egypt's political crisis deepens, the rest of the world is growing increasingly concerned about the prospect that Egypt might fall into a civil war, repeating the fate of Syria. Some analysts even suggest that the country might become a target of international "interference". Given Egypt's clout in the region's political and economic arena, should any of these scenarios come true, it would be a heavy blow to a region that is being rocked by the crisis in Syria.

While it might be too early to worry about international interference in Egypt, the ongoing turbulence in Egypt is affecting relations with countries such as the United States and Turkey. Their reactions toward Egypt's turmoil have been eye-catching and have had repercussions in international relations.

Among all the international reactions, those of the US are most noteworthy as the superpower has for years provided direct military assistance to Egypt in a bid to sustain its influence in the country and the region at large. But the US has been under great pressure to review the annual $1.23 billion in military assistance and about $241 million in economic aid to Egypt, which has remained a close US ally for three decades until the toppling of Mubarak. On Tuesday, Washington seemed to take a harder line toward Egypt's military-backed government, stressing that its bloody crackdown on protesters could influence the US' aid to Cairo.

Given that many of the region's woes, those of Egypt's and Syria's included, have borne the hallmark of the US' trumpeting of democratization in the region, the US should reflect on its Middle East policy. It is no denying the fact that after a breeze of Western-style democracy swept across the region the US now appears utterly unprepared to shoulder any responsibility for the crises that have ensued.

Hence, political forces in Egypt should remain sober-minded toward the US role. They are responsible for the future of their country, and more bloodshed and violence will only weaken the country's political and economic fabric further and make it more vulnerable to international interference.

The pro and anti-Muslim Brotherhood forces should show the utmost restraint and avoid large-scale clashes. The transitional government should start a process of inclusive political dialogue as soon as possible and engage all political forces, mild Islamic forces included, in the national reconciliation process.

The author is a senior writer with China Daily. wanghui@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily 08/23/2013 page8)

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