- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Egypt is what happens when a nation falls into a vacuum. When Mohammed Morsi was thrown out by the generals, chaos took over, as it often does. The violence there accelerates with unfathomable horror. Fifty-one men and women were slain Monday when soldiers fired into a crowd at morning prayers outside an army barracks. Three children were thrown off the roof of a high-rise building for the crime — or sin, as measured by Islamic red-hots — of shouting in celebration of the end of the Morsi era.

There’s no guarantee of who or what will fill the vacuum, but the miserable history of the Middle East suggests that it’s not likely to be good. Blood and smoke are the only signposts to the future. Egypt has only an interim president, with the emphasis on interim. Days ago, Mohamed ElBaradei, the opposition leader and a credible alternative to chaos, looked promising. But at the end of the week, the prospect of Mr. ElBaradei, cheered by voices of moderation across the region as a someone more substantial than interim, dissolved.

How the possibility of the promising ElBaradei leadership came to be put on hold is instructive about what happens in an Islamic vacuum. The hard-line Islamist Nour Party refused to endorse Mr. ElBaradei because his vision of a secular state, a rare ray of wan light on the horizon, does not match the party’s vision of a future under strict soul-killing Shariah law.

The mob that cheered when Hosni Mubarak was overthrown and Mr. Morsi was elected to succeed him, cheered again when the generals deposed him. The mob, with no clear understanding of what democracy is about, seems unsure of what it wants. Mr. Morsi was unable to deliver on the promises he made to restore prosperity; what he did deliver was the Muslim Brotherhood’s Islamist agenda. The Nour Party, speaking for the Islamists, fears that Mr. ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, is too “liberal,” as the region defines liberal.

The violence and chaos have sobered many Egyptians, weary of the turmoil that began 30 months ago. The optimistic and naive, desperate for a triumph of hope over experience, looked to Mr. ElBaradei to save the day. He was educated in the West, and he has a fondness for cheeseburgers. But he’s out of consideration, at least for now.

Many thousands of Morsi supporters rallied for a third day Monday near a mosque in a Cairo neighborhood known to be an Islamist stronghold. The mob chanted angry slogans against the coup organized by Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The protests on Mr. Morsi’s behalf are organized with a certain media savvy. Many of the banners carried by the mob are written in English for overseas consumption, such as one declaring that “Al-Sisi is a traitor.” But more than media savvy will be crucial to restoring order. Only selfless leadership can do that, and a selfless leader in the Middle East is as rare as a unicorn.

The Washington Times