What happens when parents of fighting children just tell them to shut up and behave rather than helping them work out their differences? The first time the parents leave the kids alone, the kids get into a fist fight. Instead of teaching them how to solve problems before they boil over, the parents put a lid on the pot so that the anger boils over and explodes.
What happens when a brutal dictatorship suppresses all dissent and prevents ethnic and religious groups from working out their differences, and then is overthrown by those same groups in a revolution? They attack each other (AP photo story) ... with deadly results.
My first (and still strong) reaction to the stories coming out of Egypt was, "This is why we need to get rid of religion!" How can anyone look at bloody rioters carrying crosses and throwing stones and not be horrified at the hypocrisy? Islam is the religion submission and peace. Christianity is about forgiveness and turning the other cheek. And yet there they are, out in the streets killing each other over these same two religions.
But then I thought about these people's history. Christians and Muslims have been living side-by-side for decades in Egypt, but haven't had the opportunity to air their grievances and work out problems. Religions naturally clash because it's difficult to reconcile two faiths (unlike most other human knowledge, where truth actually matters). The Egyptians were living under Mubarak, who suppressed all dissent and dialog. The democratic process that lets disputes get aired and defused in free countries was absent in Egypt – for longer than most Egyptians have been alive.
So it shouldn't be a surprise to the rest of the world that these frustrations are now boiling over. Twenty four dead and counting. The Coptic Church is shouting about persecution. Prime Minister Essam Sharaf laments that the riots have "taken us back several steps."
I hope that this inevitable period of violence that grew out of Mubarak's repression will be short-lived, and that more reasonable factions will prevail once the pent-up steam has boiled over.