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An unusual military coup.

THE removal of Mohamed Mursi as Egypt's President has provoked fierce clashes that have left many dead.

Western governments should insist that the authorities allow peaceful protests and indict those responsible for using lethal force. This is not, however, the time to suspend aid to Egypt. The most pressing need is to produce political order. Western diplomacy should not at this stage abandon its principal means of leverage.

The Muslim Brotherhood claims that Egypt's security forces have killed 200 demonstrators and wounded thousands more since Mursi was overthrown by the military.

Having dispensed with the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, Egypt is dangerously polarised. For a keystone state in the region and the most populous Arab country, that is a chastening outlook. Discord was the predictable outcome of Mursi's overthrow by military fiat rather than electoral pressure. Western governments should not rule out coercive economic diplomacy in protest at the repression. They cannot afford to abandon Egypt, however; nor should they overlook the contribution that Mursi and his supporters have made to the current disorder.

In office, Mursi ruled in a manner that itself resembled a coup against civil institutions. He packed state institutions with supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. He drafted a constitution involving only Islamists and hastened a referendum on it. His security forces attacked protesters. He targeted the judiciary as an independent source of authority, removing 3,000 judges from office. Above all, Mursi proved hopeless at defusing Egypt's economic crisis. Power cuts and bread queues are the lot of Egypt's populace.

It is doubtful whether, as the opposition claims, there were 14 million protesters on the streets of Cairo against Mursi's rule. But there was certainly widespread discontent behind the petitions demanding that he stand aside. If it is counted a coup, it is no conventional military usurpation of office. Yet it does indicate an absence of constitutional checks on the arbitrary exercise of power. Hence the arrest of political leaders and Mursi's being placed under investigation.

The West has some means of influence and should not lightly abandon them. If US aid is stopped, the shortfall would be made up by Arab states keen to crack down on the Muslim Brotherhood. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE have already committed to provide aid amounting to $12 billion. The role of Western governments should be to help Egypt through this crisis by pressing for civilian rule and the withdrawal of the military from politics. Failing this, Egypt's transition from autocracy will be arduous.

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Publication:Gulf Daily News (Manama, Bahrain)
Geographic Code:7EGYP
Date:Aug 2, 2013
Words:433
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