What the Arab Middle East has not seen since before World War I — when Egypt experienced a brief efflorescence of secular liberalism — is a real competition between Arab liberals and devout Muslims who see politics largely as an extension of their faith. The latter is, unquestionably, still a majority in Egypt. (The Holy Law is the law for most Egyptians, who have been living outside the country’s calcified, ineffectual legal system of imported European codes.)
Many young secular Egyptians — and their Western fans — appear not to know this. They imagine having a liberal democracy in which advocates of sharia and the Islamic tradition cannot win an election, write the constitution or otherwise shape society except along secular lines. Westernization has been so successful in Egypt that perhaps a third of the population may no longer share basic cultural mores with the religious majority. Egyptian liberals, and the rest of the intellectually diverse opposition to the Brotherhood, turned to the street and the army — Egypt’s real ruler since 1952 — to compete. It’s an umbilical relationship that is now unlikely to be broken.
Morsi, an incompetent, boring and inarticulate demagogue, will not return. But Egypt’s enormous systemic problems remain. The military may try to jury-rig elections in which the brethren could compete but not triumph. Mindful of recent Turkish history, senior officers will not allow vengeful Islamists to compete, win and neuter the army. Egypt’s problems are now the responsibility of the military and Egyptian liberals. The odds are that they will fail abysmally, and in their failure, the Brotherhood and other Islamists will recapture the street.