Did Egypt's "deep state" sabotage Morsi?

The Times can’t prove it, but the evidence is compelling enough to make this your must-read on a slow summer news day. We have our own “deep state,” of course, but not one so comprehensive and organized that it could shut down broad sectors of American society and then restore them literally overnight.

I think.

The apparently miraculous end to the crippling energy shortages, and the re-emergence of the police, seems to show that the legions of personnel left in place after former President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in 2011 played a significant role — intentionally or not — in undermining the overall quality of life under the Islamist administration of Mr. Morsi…

Working behind the scenes, members of the old establishment, some of them close to Mr. Mubarak and the country’s top generals, also helped finance, advise and organize those determined to topple the Islamist leadership, including Naguib Sawiris, a billionaire and an outspoken foe of the Brotherhood; Tahani el-Gebali, a former judge on the Supreme Constitutional Court who is close to the ruling generals; and Shawki al-Sayed, a legal adviser to Ahmed Shafik, Mr. Mubarak’s last prime minister, who lost the presidential race to Mr. Morsi.

But it is the police returning to the streets that offers the most blatant sign that the institutions once loyal to Mr. Mubarak held back while Mr. Morsi was in power. Throughout his one-year tenure, Mr. Morsi struggled to appease the police, even alienating his own supporters rather than trying to overhaul the Interior Ministry. But as crime increased and traffic clogged roads — undermining not only the quality of life, but the economy — the police refused to deploy fully…

Despite coming to power through the freest elections in Egyptian history, Mr. Morsi was unable to extend his authority over the sprawling state apparatus, and his allies complained that what they called the “deep state” was undermining their efforts at governing.

Gas lines and power outages have evaporated and the cops are back out in force, all in just one week since Morsi’s ouster. Go figure that 30 years of Mubarak’s kleptocracy couldn’t be wiped away simply by dumping the man himself. Lots has been written since July 3rd about Islamists in the region learning the terrible lesson that violence is the only path to durable power, but they’re going to learn lessons from this sort of ancien-regime sabotage too. Lesson one: Purge everyone in the civil services, or at least as many as you can afford to without losing a catastrophic amount of institutional knowledge. The next power grab will have to be more comprehensive than Morsi’s to be effective. Lesson two: When you do consolidate power, do it either much more quickly or much more slowly than Morsi did. The slow approach is epitomized by Erdogan in Turkey; if you move too fast you might spook the “deep state” and find yourself Morsi-ized, so build their confidence by taking a meticulously incremental tack. If you don’t have the patience for that, or fear that the “deep state” has itself learned lessons from Erdogan’s strategy, then move immediately to install your cronies everywhere you can. That means more upheaval and maybe an insurgency from dispossessed deep-staters, but catching them off-guard might give you a chance of winning.

What now for Egypt? Well, the Muslim Brotherhood’s going to lash out by killing Christians for collaborating with the new regime. That’s an early sign of where this “peaceful” movement is headed. As for the “deep state,” having reclaimed power they’ll keep the lights on for awhile by raking in dough from local Sunni monarchs who are thrilled to see Islamists take a boot to the face. Long-term, though, I think Walter Russell Mead is right: They’re destined to become Pakistan, with democracy and civil society really just a facade for the “deep state” bricks-and-mortar that’s holding the place together. The local Islamist element will get more radical, violent, and powerful, just like the Taliban, and so the U.S. will cling ever more tightly to the “deep state” underneath, even if it eventually produces another dictator. This is why Reuel Marc Gerecht’s point that Islamists have to be allowed to govern when they win elections carries some weight, even in a western world that’s lost its appetite for neoconservatism. If you stick with democracy, there’s at least a chance that the people will come to learn Islamism is a failure and embrace something more liberal. If you stick with the endless “deep state versus fundies” wheel o’ autocrats, there’s no chance. Eventually either something clamps down to stop it from spinning or it flies off its axis. The big hole in Gerecht’s theory is how to make sure that Islamists, once elected, submit themselves to being turned out at the polls in the next election. If the Brotherhood wouldn’t do that in Egypt, which was the big fear that catalyzed the protests that drove Morsi out, how do you ever evolve towards democratic liberalism?