The massacre of mostly unarmed protesters in Cairo by interim government forces is an atrocity that is completely deserving of the international condemnation being heaped on it. The deaths of more than 525 protesters on Wednesday have only further polarized the country and led to more violence, which in turn could lead to increased repressive measures. By shunning moderation in the name of brutality, the leaders of the coup that deposed the elected Islamist president Mohammed Morsi have missed a chance to bring stability back to their country, and cast grave doubt on their ability to restore democracy.
Mr. Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government was democratically elected last year but failed to include secularists and liberals, a maddening move that led to Mr. Morsi’s ouster last month by Egypt’s always looming military. That led to massive Brotherhood protest camps in Cairo, which observers had hoped the military would allow to continue in peace. Instead, the military fired on protesters with live ammunition, beat them savagely and burned their tents.
What Egypt most needed was restraint, from the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood and especially from the military rule of General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi. But this has not happened. The vicious and unnecessary attacks on the protesters in Cairo have sparked retaliatory attacks by Muslim Brotherhood followers on Christian churches and police stations outside the city. Brotherhood supporters also immediately planned a demonstration in Cairo to protest the killings. The interim government has since authorized police to use deadly force to protect themselves. The country is at a tipping point, perhaps one more bloodbath away from a civil war.
In an attempt to persuade Egypt’s military rulers to pull back from the precipice, President Barack Obama cancelled an upcoming biannual joint military exercise. He may need to go farther yet and suspend the $1.3-billion in annual military aid. “Temporary” emergency laws are back – they were temporary for decades under the deposed Hosni Mubarak – and the military seems deaf to the international community’s call for restraint. This is a sad and perilous moment for a proud country whose people demonstrated by the millions for democracy only two and a half years ago.