Democracy is not founded upon the principle of safeguarding the rights of the popular, but upon safeguarding the rights of the most unpopular. What so many Egyptians are forgetting is that the same “public interest” that justified the overthrow and persecution of one political party today will tomorrow justify the repression of anyone who questions the power of Egypt’s army and judiciary.

The anti-Morsi protesters should have marched on the presidential palace and insisted on military neutrality; the army would not have protected Mr. Morsi. Using civil disobedience to bring down Mr. Morsi would have been a longer and harder road, but in the long term it would have created a precedent for noncoercive political change that Egypt badly needs.

This time, the military agreed with the protesters. But next time, when protesters call for something that isn’t in the army’s interest, they will meet a very different fate. Today they are called “the people”; tomorrow they will be labeled seditious saboteurs. A year from now, the dreamy youth who celebrated and danced when Mr. Morsi was overthrown may well find themselves in the cell next door to the Brotherhood.