Egypt: Back to the intifada

Marc Lynch, an expert in the Arab world at George Washington University, says that if the Muslim Brotherhood separates itself permanently from the democratic process—and its leaders have vowed to do so until Morsi is restored—then the moderate Islamists the West was hoping to bring into the government may grow scarce. That, in turn, will empower and reinvigorate the more radical al-Qaida-linked groups who preach the use of force. “What Islamist can now plausibly argue that democratic participation works?” he says. “Many Islamists will likely pull back from politics for a while, go underground, or retreat to charity work, but some portion are going to find extremist ideas much more convincing now. Only takes a small number to make a difference, remember.”

Lynch’s assessment is endorsed by Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA expert in the region and a conservative commentator at the Foundation for Defense of Democracy. “For radical Islamists who thrive on tyranny, the Nile Valley has again become exceptionally fertile ground,” Gerecht says. “The secular crowd blew it. They can try to walk away from the military now … but it’s too late. Egyptian society is badly, probably irretrievably, polarized with the potential for horrendous violence. The secular crowd who thought they’d pulled off a ‘coup-volution’ with Morsi’s downfall have guaranteed that we only see devolution in Egypt, either to an increasing sad, morally corroding, impoverished society, where liberals have no future, or to an explosion that may consume the country.”

Fawaz Gerges, director of the Middle East Center at the London School of Economics, agrees that an excessive fear and loathing of the secularists for Morsi and the Brotherhood may have triggered the current disaster, and it’s difficult to see how to turn things around. “The secular-leaning opposition never allowed Mohamed Morsi a honeymoon period,” Gerges says.

In the saddest irony of all, the ultimate outcome could be a return to the Arab ancien regime: the pre-Arab Spring world of retrograde military rule, with radical Islamists as the generals’ chief opposition.