Hope for a peaceful settlement
When the Egyptian army ousted the country's first elected president a warning signal was sounded for Egypt's embryonic democracy.
But the events of the last few days, with the bloody clearing of Cairo's protest camps, may have sounded its death knell. However, despite the carnage and the despair, we suggest that the only possible solution remains a political one.
It is clear to most international observers that the writing has been on the wall for some time now. When the generals stepped into the spotlight to topple Mohamed Morsi last month, it was clear that not every component of Egyptian society was comfortable with the demands of democracy.
Of course, there is no doubt that the Islamist president made little of his brief time in office, doing next to nothing to address Egypt's chronic economic problems and – perhaps worse still – creating division where he alone had been handed a unique opportunity to promote unity.
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This was what Egypt desperately needed at this difficult moment in its recent history and it was in his gift to provide. He failed, without question.
Yet Mr Morsi was an elected leader and therefore his overthrow has dealt democracy a crushing blow. Now, after days of appalling violence it is difficult not to share in the general senses of despair for his country – and for the refreshing winds of hope that had blown in during the Arab Spring.
Of course, Mr Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood is not blameless in these chaotic times.
Rejecting the political process and stirring up public protest only exacerbated dangerous tensions and helped to trigger the military response that followed. But the scale of that response was quite disproportionate to events, however unsettling they may have been, and now the country appears to be spiralling dangerously towards civil war. Disaffection has quickly turned into anarchy.
Furthermore, Egypt's interim government appears unable to unite warring factions or provide consensus and cohesion.
Added to that, the confrontation shows no sign of stopping. The Muslim Brotherhood is calling for more protests – to, as it says, "bring down Egypt's military coup" – and while it may have appealed for peaceful protest, the violence continues.
We must hope against hope for a political settlement. The international community must do more than condemn the violence while looking the other way. If not, further bloodshed seems inevitable.