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An anti-Morsi protester in Tahrir Square uses chains to symbolize Muslim Brotherhood rule. (ASMAA WAGUIH/REUTERS)
An anti-Morsi protester in Tahrir Square uses chains to symbolize Muslim Brotherhood rule. (ASMAA WAGUIH/REUTERS)

Middle East panel: Getting a grip on a region in turmoil Add to ...

Interesting, Omar, that there is no sense Egyptians feel there can be any accommodation between the Muslim Brotherhood and those suspicious of it.

OE: There certainly seems to be less hope for that today than maybe six months ago when Mr. Morsi’s opponents couldn’t agree on what exactly they wanted him to do. Now they’ve found common ground so there are very few signs that this is going away any time soon. When the constitution goes to a national referendum, we will see just how polar- ized Egyptian society is. And if that referendum doesn’t pass, we’re back to square one: Mr. Morsi retains the unchecked powers he gave himself last week and we may see people in Tahrir for months to come.

What about beyond Tahrir Square? How does life go in outside the protest zones?

OE: People are getting on with their lives. They’ve had two years of revolution now, they’ve learned to live with protests, they’ve learned to live with what is borderline chaos.

What’s the likely fallout from this watershed period?

PM: The growth of Islamic parties across the region seems like a natural outcome. People here have had lack of a democratic say in most countries for a very long time. The only movement that stood up for their rights is the Muslim Brotherhood and organizations like it, and they’ve capitalized on moments of democratic opportunity.

For sure, there are secular elements that are worried, but, certainly when it comes to the Arab-Israeli peace process, I think Palestinians and the Arab world are looking for anything that will give them negotiating power. They see this as an opportunity get back to an Arab peace initiative, to stop the building of settlements.

Then again, every time I think there’s hope for some kind of resolution something jumps up and stops it. It remains to be seen if this is going to be that ultimate historical turning point.

What does all this mean to the rest of us?

PM: Populations in Europe and North America are shifting, and Canadians care much more about this part of the world – and the turmoil here matters because we want to see calm prevail in a particularly volatile area.

OE: Absolutely. I think Egypt right now is a sort of roadway toward peace in the region. That means the international community has to understand exactly who’s running this country. There was a sense that the Muslim Brotherhood was a group that could be largely ignored under Mr. Mubarak’s regime because they didn’t have any real power. That’s no longer the case, and I think it’s very important to understand exactly how its leadership works.

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