Only seven months ago, by a landslide two-to-one margin in a free and fair election, Egyptians approved a new sharia constitution proposed by their president, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. In assessing Egypt’s prospects now that Morsi has been driven from office, that is the fact to remember. Much as we’d like to believe otherwise, the army’s startling July 3 coup, appeasing the millions who poured into the streets for days of protests, was an indictment of Morsi’s sheer incompetence and of Egypt’s impending economic collapse. It is neither a countrywide rejection of Islamic supremacism nor the dawn of a true “Arab Spring.”
In announcing that the armed forces had deposed Morsi, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi gathered by his side a congeries of national leaders. Included were not only such natural Brotherhood opponents as Mohamed ElBaradei of the secular National Salvation Front, who had made himself the face of Morsi’s opposition, and Pope Tawadros II of the beleaguered Coptic Christian church; also signing on to General Sisi’s post-Morsi “roadmap” were significant Islamist figures: Grand Mufti Ahmed el-Tayeb of al-Azhar University, Sunni Islam’s academic center since the tenth century, and representatives of the al-Nour party, Salafists even more zealous for sharia transformation than the Brotherhood. The need to present visible support from Islamic supremacists, even if it proves to be exaggerated and fleeting, is the tribute the illusion of “democratic Egypt” must pay to the Egypt that actually exists.