Stopping a Civil War in Egypt Before it Starts

“Restoring Democracy” is an admirable goal for Egypt. But the first and most urgent task for the international community ought to be stopping the bloodshed. There are state-sponsored massacres happening on a weekly basis in Egypt; the regime is systematically arresting leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood; and reprisal attacks on Coptic Churches speaks to a dangerous ethnic dimension that can take drastic turns for the worse in these situations.

Stopping the violence ought to be the top priority for the USA, the Security Council, Israel, Saudi Arabia and every international player with a stake in Egypt’s future. Policy options need to flow from the basic premise that the violence we are seeing unfolding in Egypt amount to crimes against humanity. And if left unchecked, these crimes could lead inexorably to more violence, reprisal attacks and crackdowns. It is not hard to imagine that anti-government extremists embark on an asymmetric terror campaign; which is met with futher violence by the military. This is the logic of violence that needs to be broken before Egypt descends into a death spiral.

The threat of international prosecution for crimes against humanity could be one option to inspire restraint. At the very least, the idea should be explored to see if other members of the Security Council might entertain the option of an ICC investigation in Egypt.

Some observers have said there is an incipient civil war. That may be pre-mature, but we are at the very least at the pre-incipient civil war phase.  The international community needs to act swiftly before this turns into the real thing.

We only need to look to Syria to see how difficult it is to stop a civil war once it is raging.