Egypt after Morsi

BERLIN – Egypt lies at the heart of the Arab revolution, even if the original spark occurred in Tunisia. But Egypt – with its strategic location, stable borders, large population, and ancient history – has been the principal power of the Arab world for centuries, defining the movement of history there like no other. This implies that the overthrow of Egypt’s democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, will have much broader repercussions.

Was Morsi’s ouster a classic counterrevolution in the guise of a military coup? Or did the coup prevent a total takeover of power by the Muslim Brotherhood, and thus avert Egypt’s economic collapse and chaotic descent into religious dictatorship?

No one should deny that what happened in Egypt was a military coup, or that forces from former President Hosni Mubarak’s regime have returned to power. But, unlike in 2011, when the few pro-Western liberals and huge numbers of urban, middle-class youth rallied against Mubarak, now the same groups support the coup, lending it a certain (democratic?) legitimacy. Nonetheless, the overthrow of a democratically elected government by the military cannot be glossed over.

So what options does Egypt now have? Will it repeat the Algerian tragedy, in which the military canceled an election to prevent Islamists from assuming power, leading to an eight-year civil war that claimed up to 200,000 lives? Will the country return to military dictatorship? Or will Egypt end up with something like a Kemalist “democracy” of the type that long prevailed in Turkey, with a civilian government but the military pulling the strings? All three alternatives are possible, though it is impossible to predict which one will come to pass.