The loss of invaluable historical manuscripts in a fire that erupted Saturday in Cairo's Institute for the Advancement of Scientific Research, amid clashes between Egypt's military and the revolutionaries seeking to depose them, is reminiscent of the looting of Baghdad's national museum after U.S. troops entered the city in 2003.
The research institute, which was founded by Napoleon in 1798, was not torched in a deliberate arson attack on government offices perpetrated by opponents of the old regime. The fire resulted from a loss of control, mixed with feelings of frustration and rage, especially against the army.
The incident is proof that even the army can't protect Egypt's history. This is an army that just a few months ago maintained an alliance with demonstrators and the protest movement that led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. But in recent months, the army has been perceived increasingly as an enemy of the revolution.
The results of the second round of parliamentary elections - in which the Muslim Brotherhood solidified its position as the largest party, with a 40 percent share - have aggravated fears among liberal, secular Egyptians about the rise of a fundamentalist regime in their country. Yet, faced with an impotent army and the grave mistakes the army has made in running the state, these liberals are coming to regard the Muslim Brotherhood as a well-organized entity that can (together with the liberals ) restore the country to an orderly path - at least as long as the army allows this to happen.
For its part, the army is finding it hard to process the political upheaval by which the Muslim Brotherhood, together with various parliamentary partners, will become the ruling entity whose dictates it will need to heed. The army has taken several steps in recent months that have led Egyptians to accuse it of trying to undermine the revolution. These steps include the release of a controversial constitutional statement of principles, the establishment of an advisory council designed to negate any Muslim Brotherhood influence on the writing of a constitution, the non-establishment of an independent provisional government, and the retention of legislative and executive authority in the hands of the Supreme Military Council.
Instead of remaining outside of the political fray and being content to play the role of protecting the public and providing security to the country, the army has turned into the main political player, and also the force responsible for the eruption of riots.
The next six months until a president is elected will represent a critical period that will end up determining the status of political parties and movements in Egypt, along with the army's role in the post-Mubarak state.
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