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Mubarak’s legacy blights Egypt

23 August 2013

THE arrest this week of Mohammed Badie, the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, shows that the authorities' campaign against the Islamists is not abating. Fifty days after the army moved against President Morsi's government, the country's political future is no clearer. Egypt has been here before, of course. The Muslim Brotherhood was hounded for years by President Mubarak. The difference now is that, under Mr Morsi, it formed a legitimate government. Mr Morsi's party was accused of behaving unconstitutionally, but the army coup on 3 July was hardly a democratic act, despite the millions of protesters who supported it.

The charges against Mr Morsi and his colleagues, that they were complicit in the death of protesters while in power, match those faced by Mr Mubarak. News that the death count from the interim government's clearing of the Rabaa al-Adawiya camp last week was at least 377 (the Egyptian health ministry admits 288) suggests that there is no high ground from which to judge the actions of political rivals. The relative independence of the judiciary will make for interesting times.

Christian groups in Egypt are keen to point out that appar-ent parallels are not accurate. While in power, and despite a slim majority, Mr Morsi pushed through constitutional changes that removed protections from non-Muslims and shifted power into his own hands. Appointments were made without reference to relevant skills and experience; policies were forged without reference to other parties and sections of society. Since their removal from power, Islamists have been responsible for threats and acts of aggression against Christians and their churches. But the brutal reaction of the army is impossible to countenance. It has been as much a cause of the country's deteriorating security as a response to it. As European Union foreign ministers met in emergency session, the verdict of an Israeli official rang true: "As much as we dislike the message of the Egyptian army, there is no other option. It is a simple but cruel formula: army or anarchy."

The tragedy is that the unpopularity of the Muslim Brotherhood which prompted its forcible removal from power would have been reflected at the ballot box, if only there had been a mechanism for triggering fresh elections. But President Mubarak's repressive 30-year rule left the country's institutions in poor shape. A functioning democracy needs two things: free and fair elections, and a ruling party that acknowledges, from the moment of its election, that it is the government of all the people, regardless of their opinions and allegiances. Last week's actions by the present interim government show that this is still a distant aspiration.

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