Core neoconservative principles are not really at odds. The power of freedom is transcendent. But real freedom cannot be rushed. Democratic culture has to take root, which is a long-term project in an anti-democratic society. As a foundational matter, there must be abiding societal commitments to freedom of conscience, the equal dignity of every person, economic liberty, the rule of law, and self-determination irrespective of sharia. Only then will liberty be promoted by free elections — they are the end of the evolution, not the beginning.

We disfavor military coups because we are a liberty-loving people who defend civil rights. In Egypt, at this stage of its development, liberty lovers remain outnumbered. The massive protests against the Muslim Brotherhood administration are an encouraging sign that Egypt’s democrats are growing in strength, but they should not be mistaken for a wholesale rejection of sharia supremacism. Right now, the authentically democratic ranks remain modest; bear in mind that it was only seven months ago that the sharia constitution was overwhelmingly approved. At this point, a military coup — and an enlightened military leadership that maintains order while giving civil society the time and space to evolve — is the only chance freedom has. It is by no means certain that Egypt’s military is up to this daunting task, but it remains the best hope.

The neocons have also always been right that evil must be confronted and defeated. Yet that cannot happen unless evil is recognized as such. We must not rationalize Islamic supremacism and its sharia system as something they are not — as virtuous, or at least moderate — just because, given the choice, Islamic societies will vote for them. Egypt’s real democrats are trying to tell us that there are no moderate totalitarians. We would do well to listen.