Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood will not work with “the usurper authorities”, a member of its executive board said on Thursday, rejecting feelers from the newly sworn-in head of state after the military removed Islamist President Mohamed Mursi from power.

“We reject participation in any work with the usurper authorities,” Sheikh Abdel Rahman al-Barr said in a statement published on the group’s website.

“We call on protesters to show self restraint and stay peaceful. We reject the oppressive, police state practices: killing, arrests, curbing media freedom and closing TV channels.”

After an excruciating year of mismanagement, sectarian rhetoric and state violence, it is understandable that Egyptians should rise in full force against a regime that seemed to hold them hostage. Morsi has shown himself to be incapable of governing or even understanding the fundamentals of managing a modern state. What he succeeded in doing was to dispel any illusions that Egyptians might have had about the Muslim Brotherhood as a morally and spiritually superior faction, a myth the party has relentlessly propagated for decades. Morsi reneged on all the promises he made during his election campaign and never shied away from producing yet more lies. His pledge to respect the law of the land proved to be no more than meaningless words as he went on the rampage against the judiciary and appointed a public prosecutor that people nicknamed the “private prosecutor”.

Morsi and his supporters have argued that his overthrow was a violation of the legitimacy of the ballot box. In his last speech as president, Morsi repeated the word legitimacy over and over again. What he did not realise, however, was that the legitimacy of a ruler springs from popular consent. Falling back on the legitimacy of the ballot box is not much different from the husband who rapes his wife but insists that she is compelled by the legality of the marriage contract to accept his abuse.

[T]he organization went from wishing to be a leading political actor to being the dominant party. They did so, I am convinced, not as part of a well thought-out strategy but because they reacted to various events—perceived slights, unexpected opportunities, and confusing signals. I saw the evolution of the Brotherhood’s thinking in a series of meetings with Brotherhood leader (and reputed chief strategist) Khairat al-Shatir in the year after the uprising. In March 2011, he spoke of governing as something that might be in the Brotherhood’s future after he had retired; by the following January he was beginning to edge toward his own presidential bid (one that he was forced to cede to his colleague Mohamed Morsi when al-Shatir’s conviction under the old regime led to his disqualification)…

The tight-knit organization built for resilience under authoritarianism made for an inward-looking, even paranoid movement when it tried to refashion itself as a governing party. In fact, the organization was led by figures (Morsi himself, al-Shatir, and Brotherhood General Guide Muhammad Badi‘) who were themselves pure creatures of the organization, but the best of them tended to be fairly inexperienced at dealing with the world outside of it.

This diagnosis might lead to the Brotherhood leaving the political game to the political party it spawned, the Freedom and Justice Party. It might even lead the movement to decide to free its members to join any party they like, a position favored by a small number of young activists back in 2011. Either path would be extremely difficult for the current leadership—raised on hierarchy, coordination, and discipline—to follow.

But far from demonstrating strength, the Brotherhood’s response to the anti-Morsi protests only reinforced the organization’s utter incompetence. Despite the Brotherhood’s reputation for being able to mobilize huge crowds of supporters, the organization ultimately managed to occupy only one public square. Meanwhile, countless thousands of protesters overwhelmed two squares in Cairo alone, and dozens of others in cities and towns throughout Egypt.

The Brotherhood’s amateur battalions, which they would surely describe as menacing militias, hardly inspired fear. Some of the would-be fighters carried tree branches instead of batons. In one formation I saw outside the Rabaa al-Adaweya mosque, the pack was being led by a Muslim Brother who could not have been more than four feet tall…

Only a year ago, I witnessed a very different Tahrir celebration—one that included far more passionate “Allahu akbar” chants—when Mr. Morsi was declared the winner of Egypt’s 2012 presidential elections. The masses who packed the square on that day sought an unmistakably theocratic project. The fact that Mr. Morsi made little progress in implementing Shariah law may be the most memorable failure of his tenure.

This was Morsi’s core failure. He succumbed to Islamic authoritarianism in a nation whose revolution was diverse and demanded inclusiveness. The lesson for the region is critical. Egypt is its most important experiment in combining Islam with democratic modernity, the only long-term way to overcome the sectarian violence raging in Syria and elsewhere…

“The rejection went far beyond the liberal community,” Morayef said. “The vast majority of the women at the demonstrations were veiled. Practicing Muslims, non-Westernized Egyptians, were saying no to political Islam and religious authoritarianism. We have never seen anything like this in the Arab world.”

That is a serious setback for [Islamists’] dreams, calling into doubt the argument by Islamists across the region that political Islam is the remedy to their society’s ills. The damage to their prestige echoes widely, from Gaza where the Hamas rulers who saw in Morsi a strong ally, to Tunisia where a Brotherhood branch holds power, to Libya and Syria where Islamists push for power.

“The Brotherhood in Egypt is now a cautionary tale,” said Michael W. Hanna of the Century Foundation in New York. “Morsi’s abysmal performance during their short tenure is a tale of how not to guide and rule.”…

“The forceful removal of the nation’s first democratically-elected civilian president risks sending a message to Islamists that they have no place in the political order; sowing fears among them that they will suffer yet another bloody crackdown; and thus potentially prompting violent, even desperate resistance by Morsi’s followers,” the Brussels based International Crisis group warned in a statement.

Two good effects of this coup are that it may chasten other MB and Islamist groups, and lead to splits in the Egyptian MB. As to the first point, surely MB groups and affiliates in Jordan, Morocco, the Gulf, and elsewhere will feel that something went wrong beyond misjudging the Egyptian army. Egyptian MB leaders misjudged everything: their ability to govern, their ability to run the economy, the tolerance of the political system for their efforts to concentrate power, and the willingness of the army and police to give them slack, for example. So other MB groups must rethink, and must conclude that they will have to take more time and win more hearts and minds, not just try to win one election and then seize permanent power…

This is an important stage in the “Arab Spring” and probably hails years of instability in Egypt as Islamists fight back. The Egyptian MB was once a terrorist group and elements of it may return to violence, as may other Egyptian Islamists. For the United States, one lesson is that when Islamist groups are elected we should hold them to strict human-rights and civil-liberties standards and to democratic procedures, rather than giving them a pass — as Obama did. Another lesson is that we should always remember who our friends are and should support them: those who truly believe in liberty as we conceive it, minorities such as the Copts who are truly threatened and who look to us, allies such as the Israelis who are with us through thick and thin. No more resets, no more desperate efforts at engagement with places like Russia and Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood.

While the most radical Islamists will no doubt draw the wrong lessons from the turmoil in Egypt—don’t participate in Western-style democratic elections at all—the smarter and more numerous Islamist parties will, like many in the already-fractious Muslim Brotherhood (which has seen many defectors), have no choice but to learn to compromise on their ultimate dreams of a fundamentalist state far more than they have already done. Already the radical Salafist Nour Party has hedged, cautiously siding with the protesters and calling for fast presidential elections in order to avoid “civil war.”…

“The Muslim Brotherhood is losing legitimacy at an astonishing rate, faster than I thought likely,” says Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA expert who is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and is an expert in the region. Yet the secular protesters in the streets can’t win either by acclaiming or supporting a coup. And here, perhaps, the Obama administration can provide a helpful nudge. “The administration should do what it has not done, and rip Morsi and the old MB guard for trying to set up majoritarian democracy and that runs roughshod over minority concerns,” says Gerecht. “We have little financial leverage here–except through the military. But we should use the bully pulpit. It may be a bit late, but better late than never. The administration needs to take Egyptian civil society seriously.”

So do the Islamists. One can only hope they digest the latest lesson from the Arab street.

What made the summer’s demonstrations different from the days that brought Mubarak down was now the majority of people who came out were those who had stayed away from the demonstrations when Mubarak fell. Called the “Couch Party,” many of them were sympathetic to the old regime. When on Monday, the army announced Morsi had two days to come to an agreement with his opponents, or the military would unveil its own plan for the future, no longer did the protests seem benign, but a convergence of the state’s security apparatus and those who longed for Mubarak’s halcyon days.

On Wednesday in the final hours before the army announced its intentions, Morsi’s supporters gathered at a rally in the neighborhood of Nasr City. The front of the rally was guarded by men in helmets, who carried clubs. People warned they were losing faith in democracy and vowed to die protecting their president. They were sure their democracy was being stolen from them, even though they were the ones who had stayed and fought in Tahrir Square against pro-Mubarak gangs in the protests of February 2011.

Brotherhood member Yasser Hag, a doctor and medical professor, warned the consequences were dire. “This is playing with fire,” he said. “Islamists will never again believe in democracy and the ballot boxes.”

While justifying its intervention in politics as serving the will of the people, the military has never been a force for democracy. It has one primary objective, analysts said: preserving national stability and its untouchable realm of privilege within the Egyptian state…

For decades, however, its tens of thousands of elite officers have jealously guarded their privileged station. They live as a class apart, with their own social clubs, hotels, hospitals, parks and other benefits financed by the state…

The liberals and the revolutionaries are too quick to hop into bed with the military — it is not their friend,” said Mr. Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations. “The most important thing from the military’s perspective is preserving its place as the locus of power and influence in the system.”

What now? There remains a very real, urgent risk of major violence and further political or even state collapse, of course. But even if the worst is avoided, Egypt faces a real risk of becoming trapped in an endless loop of failed governments, military interventions, and popular uprisings. The very idea of democratic legitimacy has taken a severe beating, and the coming constitutional reforms and new elections will not pass easily. Building real consensus behind genuinely democratic institutions has to remain the guiding light for U.S. policy and the Egyptian political class, no matter how difficult this appears…

Can that be achieved? Certainly, recent experience is not promising. The Egyptian military has already proved its own inability to effectively run the country, and military coups are rarely a viable pathway toward democracy or stability. The opposition has proved its ability to mobilize the streets around big focal-point issues like deposing Morsy, but remains as deeply internally divided as ever and has no common policy agenda. The Muslim Brotherhood has lost a lot of support but still commands a significant base that will feel deeply aggrieved, disenchanted with formal politics, and fearful for its personal safety. Other Islamists are playing their cards close to the vest, likely hoping to benefit from the Brotherhood’s failure, but have not likely abandoned their ideological goals. And the mobilization that led to June 30 has heightened polarization, mutual demonization, dehumanization, and fear.

Washington can’t do much to shape Egyptian politics right now, even if it tried.

Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood have a popular base of support of their own. They have condemned the military takeover, and may well decide to fight it. The Egyptian public is highly polarised, with a lot of potential for more conflict and bloodshed.

The danger is that some of the radical elements of the Muslim Brotherhood and their hard line Islamist Salafist cohorts could easily go underground and take up arms, as the Islamist opposition did in Algeria in the wake of being denied by the military a win in the general elections in 1992. The Algerian experience resulted in a most brutal and gruesome period for a decade – no less worse than what is going on in Syria.

For the military to avoid such a situation arising in Egypt, it would need to hold a fair and free election soon. Then the question is: what if the Muslim Brotherhood wins the election once more?

Via the Corner.