Marc Lynch

Violence returns to Cairo

Violence returns to Cairo

 A demonstration outside the Cabinet building in central Cairo turned violent last night when soldiers attacked a sit-in which had been established three weeks ago.  Protestors were pelted with rocks and even furniture from the buildings above.  There are reports of almost 100 injured, and the battle continues to rage on.  At least three members of the Advisory Council appointed by the SCAF have resigned in protest, and the political fallout is likely only beginning.  After three weeks of orderly elections, Cairo once again looks like Bahrain. 

 When I walked through Qasr el-Aini street this afternoon it looked post-apocalyptic, with rubble strewn everywhere and an incredibly tense, unpleasant vibe.  It seems to have gotten worse since then.  The contrast from the orderly, calm voting stations I had visited over the last few days couldn’t have been more stark. The violence should puncture any illusions that the SCAF’s problems had evaporated with the high turnout and relatively smooth process of the Parliamentary elections now in their third week.  Elections are necessary, but they are not sufficient.

Today’s sudden deterioration and brutal violence shows clearly that Egypt will remain unstable as long as the Egyptian military leadership fails to address core political grievances or impose any meaningful accountability for violence by its security forces.  What the SCAF has thus far done is clearly not enough. Egypt can’t wait for the SCAF to transfer real power to an effective civilian government, end its abusive security tactics, and hold those responsible for the violence accountable.    

This emphatically does not mean that the ongoing Parliamentary elections should be suspended.  This should not be used as an Algeria-style excuse to step in and suspend elections which Islamists are dominating — that would truly pave the path towards a complete breakdown.  The elections should continue on schedule, and the coming political battles over the constitution and the Parliament’s powers be allowed to unfold.  But the elections can not substitute for those fundamental changes to how the SCAF is ruling Egypt, including real accountability for the unwarranted use of force, which need to be implemented now.  

 When the violence broke out, I had been planning out an article focused on the Muslim Brotherhood’s political options and intentions in the next phase.  The coming political battles are fairly clearly telegraphed — the writing of the constitution, the formation of a Parliamentary coalition, the definition of the powers of the Parliament, and more.  Today’s violence does not lessen the urgency of any of those political developments.  But the sudden re-emergence of violence and the brutal misuse of force against protestors once again reveals the inherent instability created and sustained by the SCAF’s current course. Shuffling Prime Ministers, appointing a powerless Advisory Council, and even overseeing successful elections just isn’t enough.