Leaders: World must not let Egypt turn into another Algeria

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Egypt’s dreadful descent into anarchic violence continues as the death toll from police and army crackdowns on demonstrations rose again yesterday.

The Muslim Brotherhood, unbowed by the official 638 deaths and 3,000 injured reported from Wednesday’s mayhem, called for more demonstrations against the forces which ousted Islamic president Mohammed Morsi. Those forces – the so-called interim government’s

police and the army – responded predictably harshly.

This terrible cycle of death and terror serves only to widen the already big divisions in Egypt and reduce still further the chances of talks and negotiations which could halt the violence.

The army, having embarked on a strategy of enforcing peace from the barrel of a gun, appears to believe it has no choice other than to continue down this disastrous route. The Muslim Brotherhood seems to consider that public

protests provide their best chance of reclaiming power. Both sides have to recognise that their tactics are hopeless before there will be any end to the fighting.

Sadly, this point of recognition seems to be a long way off, ensuring only that the body count will rise still more. The army risks turning itself into their people’s persecutors, rather than their protectors, and a repetition of events in Algeria where the army’s prevention of Islamists taking office after a 1991 election resulted in ten years or terror and near civil war in which about 200,000 died.

International pressure represents the best chance of preventing the same calamity from befalling Egypt. Given that this is obvious, the woolly uncertainty of the American administration is hard to understand. US president Barack Obama has cancelled joint military exercises that were due to be held with Egypt, but has held back from halting aid to Egypt. This runs at about £830 million a year, much of it in the form of help to the military.

This is well understood in the Arab world, so it is all too easy for America’s enemies in the Middle East to portray Mr Obama’s failure to turn off the money tap as evidence of America’s support for anti-Islamism. That in turn can be portrayed as American hostility to the Palestinians at a time when the administration has been trying to get talks going between Israel and Palestine’s leaders.

Strong action from America may also serve to galvanise the rest of the world which has been doing not much more than standing on the sidelines looking on with horror. America is the only power, for example, with the leverage capable of persuading Saudi Arabia and the Emirates to withdraw their financial support for Egypt.

Talks and negotiations aimed at reinventing a workable form of democracy in Egypt have to happen sooner or later. The more this week’s tragedies continue, the later they will be and the more estranged will be the western and the Islamic worlds.

Sex abuse warrants inquiry

Like a nauseating plague, the allegations of sexual abuse of children by priests at Fort Augustus Abbey school in the Highlands and Carlekemp preparatory school in East Lothian keep spreading. The catalogue of accusations is sickening. Some 50 people have claimed to have been victims. Ten monks have been accused of physical abuse, four monks and a lay teacher of sexual abuse, including rape, and three headmasters are alleged to have covered everything up.

The fact that these allegations relate to events that occurred decades ago diminishes their seriousness not one whit. The more that sexual and physical abuse of children is exposed and the perpetrators are brought to justice, the greater is the chance of stamping out something which, appallingly, blights society today.

Now Scotland’s Children’s Commissioner, Tam Baillie, has called for an independent public inquiry to be held. This call, which has been backed by children’s charities and by two political parties, ought to be heeded by the Scottish Government.

For the moment, it has said that these matters are for the Catholic Church in Scotland to deal with and for Police Scotland to investigate. Regrettably, no-one would give any action by the church much credence, and while a police investigation is right and proper, it can only assemble evidence which may not necessarily lead to prosecutions.

An independent inquiry, however, can lay bare the full catalogue of abuse, and, just as importantly, how these offences were covered up and kept hidden.

These latter matters are not easily amenable to court proceedings, but for children to be better protected in the future, they need to be exposed.