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Massacre in Cairo

 

CAIRO -- In the early morning hours of Monday, the Egyptian military opened fire on pro-Mohamed Morsy demonstrators at the Republican Guard headquarters in Cairo, where the protesters had gathered to call for the release of the deposed president. At this point, the Egyptian Health Ministry is reporting that 42 people have been killed and over 300 injured.

It is unclear what precipitated the attack. While the overwhelming majority of those killed were pro-Morsy protesters, one army officer was also reported dead in the violence. Military officials are claiming that protesters attempted to storm the military building and kidnapped two soldiers. Morsy supporters, meanwhile, say the army opened fire on the sit-in during morning prayers.

Many of the injured were taken to a field hospital at the pro-Morsy demonstration near the Rabaa al-Adaweya mosque. The area is expected to be the site of pro-Morsy protests later in the day, and the Egyptian military has moved its forces close to the sit-in -- raising the potential of further clashes later in the day. Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood's political party released a statement in response to the attack calling for an "intifada," or uprising, against those who would "steal their revolt with tanks and massacres."

The implications of this bloodshed are going to be severe -- both in the political realm and on the street. Just as the attacks at Maspero or Port Said struck a blow against the post-Hosni Mubarak military government's legitimacy, this attack threatens to seriously weaken the administration chosen to replace Morsy. President Adly Mansour, who is almost completely unknown to the Egyptian people, faces the first challenge of his administration.

The violence is already threatening to break apart the alliance between some political forces and the military. The Salafist Nour Party, which was already feuding with other opposition forces over the selection of the next prime minister, has withdrawn from any negotiations on government formation, while a spokesman said that "[i]t is as if the former regime is back fully fleshed." Secular leader Mohamed ElBaradei, meanwhile, called for an independent investigation into the events.

The Egyptian military has said that it does not want to rule directly, but today's events make it clear just how central a role it plays in the country's future. If such bloodshed continues, the government's civilian veneer will be harder to maintain -- and Egypt will find itself further away from democracy than ever before.

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Can ElBaradei Keep Egypt Together? Can Anyone?

CAIRO -- So far, there has been only one ironclad rule in post-Morsy Egypt: Don't trust breaking news. Reports that hardline Islamist groups had abandoned the Muslim Brotherhood? Reversed. News that Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohammed Badie was arrested? Proven false when he appeared at a large Brotherhood rally.

And now: another doozy. On Saturday, the official state news agency reported that opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei would be sworn in as the new prime minister later that evening. A few hours later, however, the decision was reversed as the tenuous political alliance that supported Mohamed Morsy's ouster began to fray. 

Achieving consensus in Egyptian politics is proving easier said than done. With ElBaradei's candidacy for the premiership, the fractures among the diverse political forces that came together to bring down the Muslim Brotherhood are coming to the fore. Whoever emerges as the country's next prime minister will be charged with managing this increasingly unwieldy alliance: He will need all of his skills to keep it together and make the sort of political progress that will justify the turmoil of the past week.   

The hitch in ElBaradei's rise came from the Salafist Nour Party, which abandoned the Muslim Brotherhood by throwing its weight behind the military-guided transition plan. But while the Nour Party had its problems with Morsy, the hardline Islamist movement had no love for the secular ElBaradei. "You criticize the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamists for not sharing in their decision making, but then you do the same thing," a Nour Party official told the Wall Street Journal, in explaining their objection. "This isn't the way of democracy or the way of dealing with a country like Egypt."

It's a compelling point. If the Nour Party drops its support for the transition, as it threatened to do if ElBaradei was appointed, power would fall completely into the hands of a small group of electorally untested, non-Islamist politicians. The anti-Morsy political front would be taking exactly the sort of exclusionary approach to government that they criticized in their Islamist predecessors.

That's not to say all Salafists oppose ElBaradei. "I believe he's the right guy for the right time," said Mohammed Tolba, a founder of the moderate Salafi group Salafyo Costa. "We need someone who's an expert, presentable, who has international relations.... He was one of the guys who called for the revolution. We cannot stand trial and error anymore."

But if Egypt's main Salafist party gets a veto over such central decisions, what can the interim government accomplish? This isn't going to be the last area of contention: In upcoming discussions to amend the country's constitution, the Nour Party is undoubtedly going to fight to preserve, or even strengthen, the role of Islamic law. By trying to please everyone, Egypt's new government runs the risk of accomplishing nothing.

This is the conundrum that ElBaradei, who is still the front-runner to become the next prime minister, will fall into should he actually land the job. While he is viewed as perhaps the most uncompromising liberal voice on Egypt's political scene, ElBaradei's stances have shifted considerably since entering politics. Upon his return in 2010, he allied with the Muslim Brotherhood  -- even clashing with secularist opposition parties in the process. Today, he is the Islamists' public enemy number one, castigating the Morsy administration's governance of the country in an article for Foreign Policy's "Failed States" issue. Following Hosni Mubarak's fall, ElBaradei denounced the military-guided government as a "fascist regime" and resolutely refused to take part. Today, with the premiership in sight, he's justifying the military's arrest of Muslim Brotherhood leaders and the closing of Islamist television channels as "precautionary measures."

ElBaradei, for his part, says that a leader has to be willing to change his positions and cut deals if he wants to be successful. "It's really essentially to accept each other -- to cut a deal, if you like, you have to compromise and reconcile your differences," he told FP shortly before diving into Egyptian politics. "And you have to find the highest common denominator that you can get. You get a lot of that through psychology -- it is not really substance, as you learn. It's really respect and dialogue: These are all skills that you need wherever and whatever you do in public life. Whether you are a CEO of Coca-Cola, whether you are the head of the IAEA, or whether you are the president of a country."

The ability to adapt to political reality while still maintaining your reputation for sticking to your principles isn't a bad trick, either. Whether it's ElBaradei or another figure, Egypt's new prime minister is going to need to call on all of his political skills to navigate the country through its largest crisis since Mubarak's fall.

Evan Hill contributed reporting on this article.

Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images for Cinema for Peace