THE BLOG
08/15/2013 10:26 am ET Updated Oct 15, 2013

Egypt: The End of Illusions

Black Wednesday will surely go down in the annals of Egyptian history as a day to be remembered for generations to come -- not a mean feat in a country with such long history. This is the day when the only institution still held in high esteem by the vast majority of the Egyptian population, Islamist as well as Westernized-liberal -- the Egyptian Army -- is no more. With so much blood on its hands, the Army, a near-sacred institution, surely since the "victory" in the 1973 war, will be taken by the Islamists, still the majority of Egypt's population, to be their sworn enemy, the target for blood revenge, rather than the recipient of adulation. Nor is the liberal minority going to uphold unreservedly the traditional platitudes about the Army, as those who suppress brutally the Islamists can surely do, under different circumstances to young, disenchanted secular demonstrators.

The generals, under Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi, crossed the line of what was previously deemed inconceivable in Egypt, and a precedent is what it is. It can repeat itself anytime. The declaration of State of Emergency for one month only should not mislead anyone, as nothing is more permanent than the temporary in Egypt....

Mubarak instituted a State of Emergency after the assassination of Sadat in 1981 and his own accession to power, which miraculously enough was in place until 2011 and the outbreak of the Egyptian Spring. History does not always repeat itself, but the writing is on the wall. Muhamad Al Barada'I, of all people, the temporary Vice President, just resigned. He got the message, somewhat belatedly though, as he and other secular politicians invited the military to do what it finally did.

And the military did it not because of the urgings of the secular politicians, but because of their own vested interest in maintaining and perpetuating their dominant position in Egyptian politics. It is always somewhat risky to predict the more distant future, but not so the immediate aftermath of the big bloodbath.

A sustained Islamist struggle is coming, using the masses in the immediate future, and resorting to deadly, unrestrained terror campaign afterwards, the like of which Egypt already witnessed in the 1990s, perhaps reminiscent of the Algerian situation after 1992, though surely not identical. The military will have to be harsh in dealing with it, repression will follow, the economy will continue to deteriorate and real, representative democracy will remain an unattainable goal, noble as it is, clearly in the near future. The Islamists will resent it, the secular will lose faith, the Christians, already under savage attack will flee out; in short, it's a bleak near future outlook.

What is much safer to analyze is what already happened. I refer to the end of the illusions which surrounded the Egyptian situation ever since January 2011. The bulk of Egypt's population did rise up against Mubarak's ineffectual, benign authoritarian regime, but they were NOT those who brought him down. He was removed in a coup de grace by his hitherto loyal lieutenants, who believed that by so doing they could preserve their dominant political-economic position in Egypt. If the generals wished then to keep Mubarak at all costs, they could, but they did not try. Their illusion was that they could somehow tame the shrew, allow free democratic elections in which, even if the Muslim Brotherhood won, the military could maintain its privileges, the Islamists will act moderately and the seculars, though in opposition, will not feel totally disenfranchised. This proved so wrong, as the Islamists are what there are, bearers of a long legacy of oppression, strong believers in Shari'a as the main source of legislation, in sum, committed adherents of an Islamic state, not a pluralistic society. In an Islamic state, they do not want to assign a dominant political role to the military, as respected as it was, even in their eyes.

Then came the time of the counter-revolution, upheld by the liberals in Tahrir Square, but again, the illusion was that they were powerful enough to bring down the Brotherhood. They did not, as Morsi was brought down by the military, not by the demonstration in the square. In this case, there was exposed an even bigger illusion, the sense, proved wrong, that in Egypt , uniquely among of all the Arab states of the Middle East, a formidable civic society developed, one which could support political parties with enough popular support, capable of standing up to the proven popular support of the Islamists.

Egypt has had its distinct political history in the Middle East, but has still failed to create the conditions that enable secular popular movements to genuinely flourish, unless promoted from above by a dictatorial regime, as happened under Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak. Unfortunately, the circumstances of the military intervention after just one year of a failing Islamist regime preclude the demolition of the myth that Islam is the solution [Islam Al-Hal]. The Islamists may blame Morsi for committing tactical errors, but now they have found their scapegoat, the military, and with it a renewed raison d'etre.

What will be the renewed raison'detre of Al-Barada'I and the overall liberal-secular camp remains to be seen. No surprises about the Army's, it will be restoring stability. The future of Egypt will be determined by the interplay between all these political expectations. It does not look too promising.