U.S. officials -- ever eager for stability in the Middle East -- will turn a blind eye and establish a "working relationship" with Morsi.
"I think the impulse of most American administrations is to show up in an Arab country and say, 'Take me to your leader,' " Nathan Brown, a George
Washington University professor and leading expert on Egypt, told me in a bleak interview today. "I don't think we have many alternatives. The United
States is not in the position to back a military coup or the opposition."
Brown is correct. Yes, the United States has some economic leverage in Cairo, but in general America remains radioactive in post-Mubarak Egypt. After 40
years of the United States backing Egyptian strongmen who made peace with Israel, Washington is hugely mistrusted.
A September 2012 Gallup Poll found that 82 percent of
Egyptians opposed the country's government accepting any economic aid from the United States. By comparison, 42 percent of Egyptians surveyed -- roughly
half that number -- opposed the country's peace treaty with Israel.
Let me be blunt to those who think more "American leadership" is the answer. A U.S.-backed military coup -- which it is doubtful the United States could engineer -- would radicalize Islamists across the region and be an enormous gift to al Qaeda. Similarly, if Washington openly backs the country's secular opposition,
those opponents will be viewed as American stooges and lose popular support.
"A much more effective strategy for the United States is to call for a dialogue between Mursi's government and the opposition behind closed doors," said
Dalia Mogahed, the American scholar who conducted the Gallup survey. "The U.S. coming out publicly on the side of the opposition will be used against
The only small cause for hope is that Egypt's struggles are not unprecedented. Other countries have undergone agonizing and turbulent transitions as well.
Thomas Carothers, an expert on transitions to democracy at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said that what is occurring today in Egypt is
typical when a long-disenfranchised group gains power. Distrustful and insular after years of struggles, it is often reluctant to share power and still
views itself as deeply vulnerable.
Carothers said Egypt's struggle mirrors the difficult transition still under way in Bolivia. Seven years after Evo Morales was elected that
country's first president of indigenous descent, a tense "fundamental rebalancing of political power" is still playing out in Bolivia. The country's
traditional elite and the indigenous movement still struggle to trust each other and share power. Bigoted arguments that democracy does not work in the
Arab world do not apply in Egypt.
"There is nothing particularly Arab about what is happening," Carothers said. "It's not an Islamist issue, per se."