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Bernard-Henri Lévy Headshot

Where Is Egypt Headed?

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In Egypt, one thing is certain: radical Islam has been discredited. It has proven its inability to begin to build a state and to set the groundwork for economic and social development. What about the plan for a moderate Islamist government, the idea of an Islamist succession that would not become just another form of despotism? Whatever happens next in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood has buried that idea.

A second thing is certain: The army has lost its credibility, having demonstrated to anyone who still had any doubt that it has neither learned anything nor forgotten anything since the Mubarak era. The idea of an army of the people and for the people, the proposition of a republican army that intervenes not to defend its interests and privileges but rather, in the manner of the April captains of the Portuguese revolution nearly forty years ago, to come to the aid of a civilian movement enamored of law and freedom, has become an illusion, one rendered sadly and tragically absurd in the wake of the massacre this past Saturday, July 27, which came on top of the 72 deaths in the shootings of July 9.

What might one expect to emerge from this?

One might imagine, of course, a surprise return of the Muslim Brotherhood, who, draped in the mantel of martyrdom bestowed by the recent events, may renew their effort to recapture the power from which the people so recently chased them. The religion of death and blood -- is that not also their religion? Do they put any more stock in human life than do the assassins of the military? And did I not hear, two and a half years ago, in the first days of the revolt in Tahrir Square, one of their number, a member of the Brotherhood's steering committee, describe to me, down to the last detail, the chain of events that we are now witnessing, a chain that, in his eyes, can only turn to their advantage?

One might imagine a new and enduring dictatorship propped up by braided, medal-covered killers laying claim to an imaginary "mandate" to eradicate "terrorism." Did not Mohamed Ibrahim, the new interior minister, refer last Sunday, just hours after the carnage, of a "new dawn" for the armed forces? Does not the theme of the "thirty million supporters" for the "eradicators" (according to the state television network) function as a veritable license to kill? And although Al-Sissi probably lacks the stature to play his current role very long, how can we avoid thinking back to the 1950s, when a colonel named Nasser consolidated power after two years of semi-anarchy following a coup by officers acting in the name of freedom?

Another possibility is the Algerian scenario, in which the two camps face each other in a battle that is both merciless and, in a sense, endless. I witnessed that scenario being written. At the time, I reported on the dual reign of the largest Islamic party (the FIS) and its armed wing (the GIA), on one side, arrayed against the regime's security forces, on the other. And I can see all too well the Egypt of Mahfouz and Cavafy, that of Durrell and Forster, the real and mythical Egypt that has been, since the dawn of time, a second home for sages and magi, philosophers and lovers of the mind and spirit, descending into the same logic of massacre in which killings by the army are met with reprisals from the Islamists, and vice versa.

There is one final possibility. I am not saying that it is the most likely, but nor is it the least likely. And that is the one that should be fervently desired by all true friends of Egypt, those who have learned to love the nation through its writers and its people, through the stories of the Yacoubian Building and the books of the library of Alexandria, by listening to Egyptians for whom Egypt is an entire world, and through contacts with those who conceive Egypt as an idea and as the wellspring of a story that is a key part of mankind's history. That possibility is the return of the spirit of Tahrir, a spirit that, a little more than two years ago, saw the nation's youth conquer fear to defy and defeat an Ali Baba who thought he was Pharaoh.

For this to happen it will be necessary to break the unnatural alliance, no longer one even of convenience, between the Tamarod activists and the army.

It will be necessary for Mohamed ElBaradei, the conscience of the liberal nebula, to do more than tweet to "condemn" the "excessive" use of force and call for people to "work hard" to escape the "impasse" into which Egypt has been thrown.

And it will be necessary, above all, for the people to grasp that, in the elections of June 2012, it was only discord in the friendly camp, only the division of democrats backing two or three different candidates, that brought to power an Islamist for whom, when the count was done, just a little over a quarter of the electorate had voted.

A revolution is not accomplished in a day -- or even in two years.

A revolution is a murky, conflictual event that unfolds over time, a process in which sudden advances are succeeded by terrible setbacks.

No French citizen would claim any different, unless he or she had forgotten that interminable revolution that passed successively through the Terror, the restoration, two empires, and a Commune that was drowned in blood before an enduring republic emerged.

More than ever the West must support the democrats who are the third force in Egypt today.

Translated by Steven B. Kennedy