Leaders: Military can play part to restore democracy

The Egyptian Air Force fly over Tahrir Square, Cairo. Picture: AP
The Egyptian Air Force fly over Tahrir Square, Cairo. Picture: AP
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Egypt’s military forces occupy a special place in the country’s constitution, but that cannot excuse or condone the killings that took place yesterday.

At least 51 people among a crowd of several hundred, who had gathered to protest at the army’s ousting of Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically-elected president, were killed, when the army fired on them.

They were outside a fortified barracks in Cairo where they believed Mr Morsi was being held (the army says not) and where three people had been killed on Friday. The army says it was attacked by an armed mob and two policemen and a soldier were killed, one by a sniper. Representatives of the demonstrators said they had been at early morning prayers.

Sad to say, but what probably matters more than the truth of what occurred is what people believe happened. It is quite clear that the members and supporters of Mr Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood believe that there was a deliberate massacre. This, they think, is part of a pattern of oppression which began with the military coup and presages yet more oppression and bloodshed to come.

All too terribly, the spectre of war-torn Syria and its descent into inter-religious and inter-tribal conflict is being evoked. Demands are being made of external powers to intervene and restore democracy. But, as in Syria, outside powers, especially western ones, are powerless to act, as such action by them would serve only to deepen the strife.

The keys to a peaceful outcome are still in the hands of the Egyptian army. Their best card is to show the Muslim Brotherhood that their suspicion that they are faced with the re-imposition of the apparatus – the so-called secret state of big businessmen, bureaucrats, and generals – that oppressed them in the era of Hosni Mubarak, is unfounded.

That means rapidly moving to a fresh constitution and an interim civilian government whose life is time-limited by dates for fresh presidential and parliamentary elections. The chances of this happening currently look remote, not least because of divisions among the civilian political factions which opposed Mr Morsi.

But if the army, unlikely though it seems, can prove itself to be the champion of democracy, there is a chance that the country will not descend into chaos. So it needs to stick with the transition plans it has outlined, even though they face severe internal and external criticism.

People pressure can play a role. It should not be forgotten that the army’s intervention was warmly greeted by a large section of the population. The generals now need to talk directly to them to urge them to tell their political leaders to get back to talking and agreeing on new political structures that will allow democracy to take root. Every demonstrator killed or injured, however, sets back that cause still further. The army must not abuse its power.

Homing in on recovery

RISING house prices are good news for homeowners, less so for those who aspire to own their own home but do not yet do so. Nevertheless, they are generally a sign that the economy is on the mend.

Analysis of reports from solicitors’ property centres indicates that the number of houses coming onto the market is rising, the volume of sales is on the up, the time taken to complete deals is falling, and prices, while still low, are moving up.

Some might argue that all should be more worried than pleased by this. Some authorities, ranging from the Oecd to Sir Mervyn King, the now departed governor of the Bank of England, have said that British house prices are inflated and due a tumble.

It is true that relative to incomes, which have taken a tumble in recent years, prices are above historic levels. But the supply of houses for sale, particularly new ones, has also shrunk and is outstripped by the demand for property. That strongly suggests it would take a major economic event to cause prices to collapse.

This also does not look very likely in the near term as the improvement in the housing market is also a symptom of rising consumer confidence. People evidently feel that the worst of the economic downturn is now behind them, there is a greater sense of security about employment, and therefore greater willingness to consider the major investment of buying a house

Lending institutions have also learned the lessons of the financial crisis and 100 per cent mortgages at ridiculous multiples of income are not available, but the policies introduced to increase lending are having an effect. It looks like a return to health and not like a bubble.