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FRIEDMAN: Egypt on the edge of a political abyss

In every civil war there is a moment before all hell breaks loose when there is still a chance to prevent a total descent into the abyss. Egypt is at that moment.

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan starts this week, and it can't come too soon. One can only hope that the traditional time for getting family and friends together will provide a moment for all the actors in Egypt to reflect on how badly they've behaved — all sides — and opt for the only sensible pathway forward: national reconciliation. I was a student at the American University in Cairo in the early 1970s and have been a regular visitor since. I've never witnessed the depth of hatred that has infected Egypt in recent months: Muslim Brotherhood activists throwing a young opponent off a roof; anti-Islamist activists on Twitter praising the Egyptian army for mercilessly gunning down supporters of the Brotherhood in prayer. In the wake of all this violent turmoil, it is no longer who rules Egypt that it is at stake. It is Egypt that is at stake. This is an existential crisis.

Can Egypt hold together and move forward as a unified country or will it be torn asunder by its own people, like Syria? Nothing is more important in the Middle East today, because when the stability of modern Egypt is at stake — sitting as it does astride the Suez Canal, the linchpin of any Arab peace with Israel and knitting together North Africa, Africa and the Middle East — the stability of the whole region is at stake.

I appreciate the anger of non-Islamist, secular and liberal Egyptians with President Mohammed Morsi. He never would have become president without their votes, but, once in office, instead of being inclusive, at every turn he grabbed for more power.

With Egypt's economy in a tailspin, I also appreciate the impatience of many Egyptians with Morsi's rule. But in the Arab world's long transition to democracy, something valuable was lost when the military ousted Morsi's government and did not wait for the Egyptian people to do it in October's parliamentary elections or the presidential elections three years down the road. It gives the Muslim Brothers a perfect excuse not to reflect on their mistakes and change, which is an essential ingredient for Egypt to build a stable political center.

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