At least 40 persons are reported to have been killed in Egypt on Monday after gunmen opened fire on supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi outside the Republican Guard headquarters where the supporters believe he is being held. As clashes between pro- and anti-Morsi forces escalate, the death toll is mounting and the Egyptian army seems to be waiting for the crisis to worsen and impose martial law. This will a tragedy of titanic proportions in a country that witnessed the proudest moment of Arab Spring when its first democratically elected government was installed. It was the beginning of the hope of a liberal democracy.
However, just as with the Mubarak regime, the presidency of Morsi came to an end due to the intervention of the Egyptian army following protests against his blatant attempts to restrict liberal freedoms. Even after Morsi’s removal, an agreement on a new prime minister has proved elusive. Theoretically, it may be an internal affair for Egyptians to sort out. But the world cannot remain unconcerned. The international response to Morsi’s removal has been somewhat schizophrenic. The US first refused to use its considerable leverage to check Morsi’s dictatorial tendencies, as a result of which the results of a democratic election were nullified, and has now adopted a stance of neutrality.
As the world’s oldest democracy, the US should exert pressure to ensure Egypt does not return to military rule. A new constitution should be worked out by involving all voices in Egyptian life and free and fair parliamentary and presidential polls should be held early. In the absence of established institutions, the nascent democracy of Egypt is going through a conflict between liberalism and majoritarianism, the aftershocks of which will reverberate across the region. What Egypt needs is a helping hand from mature democracies, like the US and India, and a strong message that a democratic polity must synergise constitutional values of the rule of majority and recognition of minority rights.