Egypt Riots: It's Going to Get Worse Before It Gets Better

Unfortunately, all indications are that Egypt's transition to democracy will not be an easy — or peaceful — one. 

In the latest macabre news, Egypt's interim leader Adly Mansour expressed regret over the massacre Monday of nearly 51 people aside a Cairo barracks and urged restraint amidst widespread unrest. I think Mansour's pleas will fall on deaf ears.

Why? Because already, the finger-pointing and outrage is spiraling out of control. For example, regarding the Cairo barracks massacre, the Muslim Brotherhood and the army had completely different stories, with the Brotherhood insisting that its members were killed as they staged a peaceful sit-in for ousted President Mohamed Morsi and the army maintaining that it responded to an armed provocation. Even if the army's story is true, families of the 435 people injured in the violence are not likely to sit down and drop all claims against the army. 

So although it's sad, I think most observers would agree that these 51 protesters will not be the last victims. Rather, they may be the first casualties of the Egyptian Civil War. The Brotherhood's political wing has called for an "uprising," and if heeded, it is doubtful that this uprising would be a peaceful one. Egypt looks like it is fast becoming the new Syria. 

Mohamed Morsi, an Islamist and Egypt's first democratically elected leader, was ousted by the army last week after a series of massive protests by secularists and liberals. Since then, Egyptians have witnessed a series of escalating, often-violent scenarios pitting liberal secularists against Islamists. The Monday killings follow an incident in the same location on Friday in which three people died and dozens were wounded as troops fired on crowds.

Any political scientist can see the seeds of civil war hidden within these news stories. As the BBC reports, "The latest shooting is likely to lead to a political breakdown as the Islamist Nour party, the largest Salafist group, withdrew from marathon talks with [President Mansour] to form a caretaker government." If political parties withdraw from politics and instead use violence to achieve their aims, a peaceful resolution to this mess is highly unlikely. Indeed, I don't think Egyptians will be able to form a stable democracy so long as violence is used so widely in the country's power struggles. Unfortunately, both sides of this conflict seem only too willing to use violence in order to impose their political will. 

Not much (if anything) is ever 100% sure in Arab politics, but in Egypt, this much seems certain: Things will get much worse before they get better.