EIGHT months ago the Arab Spring protestors in Egypt put their future in the hands of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces to maintain peace while plans were made for elections, a parliament and a new constitution. The Army had acted responsibly during the demonstrations which brought down President Mubarak and the activists believed it could be trusted to oversee the necessary steps towards a parliamentary democracy. In the event, however, the Army has failed them, partly by appointing an ineffective interim civilian government, partly by allowing the timetable for elections to slip, partly by arresting activists, and partly also by demanding in advance special above the law Army privileges in the new constitution. The crowds in Tahrir Square are now calling for the head of the Army to stand down although if he were to do so it is possible that mayhem and terrible bloodshed would follow if no authoritative institution remained. Although the United States is reluctant to intervene it may have to do so by warning the Army, which it subsidises substantially, that it must act more responsibly by delaying imminent elections until order is restored, stopping arbitrary arrests, and then overseeing the remaining moves to democracy without demanding special rights for itself. That is a tall order but any other course seems doomed to failure and the risk of widespread disorder and loss of life.
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