Egypt is a country, quite literally, on fire, after the military and police attacked a sit-in by ousted President Mohamed Morsi’s supporters on Wednesday, killing more than 600 of them. Backers of the former leader then set fire to churches across the country as violence spiraled out of control as the interim government announced a curfew across the capital, Cairo, and a month-long state of emergency.
Later in the day Egypt time, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei – seen by many in the West as the greatest hope for Egyptian democracy – resigned as vice-president in protest of the violence that was engulfing the country.
Talking with Egyptians by phone, I got an overall sense of hopelessness. The future sounded bleaker than ever. More so than I have ever heard people talk. One journalist, who works for a major American publication, told me bluntly, “This is bad. Horrible. People are simply scared and the violence is increasing. People are armed to the teeth and nobody has any optimism.”
An Egyptian writer and blogger was even more real about the future. “We are a country that has struggled for freedom and it seems only this violence is what is a constant. I feel so lost for words at the moment and we are all just scared.”
That’s a stark change from the immediate days following June 30, when tens of millions of Egyptians took to the streets calling for Morsi to step down. Once the army, with popular back, overthrew him, Morsi galvanized his supporters, which led to their formation of a sit-in at Cairo’s Raba’a al-Adawiya mosque, where thousands had entrenched themselves over the past week.
When the army brutally moved in, chaos ensued. This has become the Egypt of today: a spiraling security situation loaded with ammunition and guns that are being used to kill. Violence has become, unfortunately, the language of the country.
The question now becomes, can it be stopped? Can Egypt overcome the very real chasms that exist between Morsi supporters, the military and the activists who want a country based on an Egyptian version of democratic and social justice values?
A video of alleged Morsi supporters entering a police station on the outskirts of Cairo and massacring police officers in cold blood has gone viral. It reveals just how dire the situation in Egypt has become in such a short period. There are divisions across religious, political and social lines. Families are becoming split between the pro-Morsi, pro-military and pro-democracy camps.
In many ways, it is a reminder of how tensions and violence can lead to massive social upheaval in countries. Egyptians are tired, sad, frustrated and want a better future. The continued use of violence, whether by the security forces or the Muslim Brotherhood is not solving the impasse. Today, as a state of emergency engulfs Egypt, people are looking for a way out of the cycle of violence that has entrenched sides over the past two and a half years. Egyptians want an end to this violence, the burying of their dead and the political standoff.
Despite the lack of hope that will likely persist for days, if not weeks, as the country teeters toward more violence, Egyptians must be given agency to determine their own future. The vast majority of people in Egypt understand all-too-well the horrors of violence. Thousands have been killed since January 2011. And now Egyptians are asking at what cost? Will they have the future they so dreamed when the first sparks of revolution began in early 2011?
It is easy for us, removed from the on-the-ground happenings, to deliver advice on any potential future for the country, but talking with Egyptians and those covering the events as they unfold in the country, it is becoming clear that without real leadership, real change of perceptions and the putting away of guns, violence could easily engulf the entire country. Civil war is a real possibility.