Doing the bloody math in emerging civil war in Egypt

It appears that some members of the mainstream press are beginning to do the hard, bloody math in Egypt. The math? This is why I have continued to point GetReligion readers toward that 2011 poll of Egyptian voters by the Pew Research Center.

You do the math and it's hard to escape the fact that civil war, or a military government, will be impossible to avoid in this escalating conflict. In other words, the secular, Western-friendly Cairo elites who are so close to the major Western newsrooms do not represent the vast majority of the Egyptian people.

Yes, religious beliefs and practices are the key. Yes, conflicting versions of Sharia and Islam and the rights of religious minorities are at the heart of this. The other day, I stated the equation this way:

We are back to an old, old question: Is it possible, in a land in which the majority of voters hunger for Islamic law, to defend the rights of religious minorities and secular liberals without the help of a military that is willing to oppress and jail Islamists?

As is his style, the Canadian provocateur Mark Steyn bluntly raised the same issue, in the kind of language that used to considered liberal, but now is considered conservative:

In the 2011 parliamentary elections, three-quarters of the vote went to either the Muslim Brotherhood or their principal rivals, the Even More Muslim Brotherhood. So, statistically speaking, a fair few of the “broad-based coalition” joining the Coptic Christians and urban secularists out on the streets are former Morsi guys. Are they suddenly Swedish-style social democrats? Human Rights Watch reports that almost 100 women were subjected to violent sexual assault over four days in Tahrir Square, which suggests not.

So what does this look like in print in a major American newspaper?

I have been paying close attention to The Los Angeles Times, in recent weeks, so let's hit the latest daily report in those cyber pages. Is anyone surprised that the military is firing live bullets and it is hard to figure out who attacked who first?

Stunned but not deterred by the violence, the Islamists quickly called for a national uprising.

"We are very patient. We Egyptians built the pyramids," said Essam Erian, deputy head of the Muslim Brotherhood's political wing. "Do you know how many people died building the pyramids? How many died digging the Suez Canal?"

The two sides’ differing views of the violence were a chilling suggestion of what Egypt may yet endure. The military crackdown has been fierce and swift. But the army so far has been unable to patch together a coalition government to replace Morsi and the Brotherhood. Without it, critics say, the army resorted to excessive force -- as it did two years ago when it stepped in after the fall of President Hosni Mubarak.

The army's actions early Monday may also have nudged two Islamic adversaries -- the Brotherhood and the ultraconservative Salafist Nour Party -- closer together.

And here comes the hint at the hard numbers:

Nour, which won 25% of the vote in last year's parliamentary elections, plays a pivotal role. It sided against the Brotherhood last week and joined a coalition of secular and religious parties in favor of ousting Morsi. But it balked at the naming of prominent secularist Mohamed ElBaradei as prime minister Saturday.

Facing increasing pressure from the Islamist camp after the killings, Nour withdrew from the negotiations on forming an interim government. The move is likely to consolidate Islamist forces and damage efforts to stabilize the country.

So 25 percent plus the majority Muslim Brotherhood equals?

So what should journalists be doing at this point? My advice is to think like human-rights liberals.

Of course, the military abuses against the Islamist majority must be covered. That is the breaking story, one front in what could be a civil war or, at the very least, a rising tide of suicide bombings.

But there may be other breaking stories linked to the other side of the equation -- which is the treatment of oppressed religious minorities. If you know anything about modern Egypt, you know that when the military attacks radical Islamists, the radicals often attack Coptic Christians, Protestants, Jews, Westerners, etc.

So remember this name of a new minority-faith martyr -- Father Mina Aloud Sharween (photo). Journalists need to think like classical liberals and look for the human-rights violations that are so often linked to life under military governments.

But in this case, there will be violations against religious minorities as well as the outraged majority. The military hits the Islamists, the Islamists hit the minorities that are linked -- in the minds of many outraged Egyptians -- with the West.

Let me state my question again:

Is it possible, in a land in which the majority of voters hunger for Islamic law, to defend the rights of religious minorities and secular liberals without the help of a military that is willing to oppress and jail Islamists?

Cover both sides of that equation.

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