Marc Lynch, an expert in the Arab world at George Washington University, says that if the Muslim Brotherhood separates itself permanently from the
democratic process--and its leaders have vowed to do so until Morsi is restored--then the moderate Islamists the West was hoping to bring into the government
may grow scarce. That, in turn, will empower and reinvigorate the more radical al-Qaida-linked groups who preach the use of force. "What Islamist can now
plausibly argue that democratic participation works?" he says. "Many Islamists will likely pull back from politics for a while, go underground, or retreat
to charity work, but some portion are going to find extremist ideas much more convincing now. Only takes a small number to make a difference, remember."
Lynch's assessment is endorsed by Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA expert in the region and a conservative commentator at the Foundation for Defense of
Democracy. "For radical Islamists who thrive on tyranny, the Nile Valley has again become exceptionally fertile ground," Gerecht says. "The secular crowd
blew it. They can try to walk away from the military now ... but it's too late. Egyptian society is badly, probably irretrievably, polarized with the
potential for horrendous violence. The secular crowd who thought they'd pulled off a 'coup-volution' with Morsi's downfall have guaranteed that we only see
devolution in Egypt, either to an increasing sad, morally corroding, impoverished society, where liberals have no future, or to an explosion that may
consume the country."
Fawaz Gerges, director of the Middle East Center at the London School of Economics, agrees that an excessive fear and loathing of the secularists for Morsi
and the Brotherhood may have triggered the current disaster, and it's difficult to see how to turn things around. "The secular-leaning opposition never
allowed Mohamed Morsi a honeymoon period," Gerges says.
In the saddest irony of all, the ultimate outcome could be a return to the Arab ancien regime: the pre-Arab Spring world of retrograde military
rule, with radical Islamists as the generals' chief opposition. "There have already been calls by extremists, such as Ayman al-Zawahiri, current chief of
al-Qaida, to renounce the electoral box and rely on force as the most effective means to establish God's kingdom on earth," says Gerges. "Although the
majority of Islamists will not buy Zawahiri's faulty goods, some would do so out of rage at the hijacking of the toppling of the first democratically
elected Islamist president in Egypt's modern history."
As it has for the last two years, the Obama administration is still struggling with the appropriate response. But the perception abroad is that the
administration has vacillated without any coherent policy. Initially during the Arab Spring the administration defended its old autocratic allies, such as
Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and Yemen's Ali Saleh. Then it moved to championing the young secularists in the street, with hopes of liberal democracy that now
look as naive as the visions of the George W. Bush-era neoconservatives. After the election of Morsi, the administration lurched in yet another direction,
embracing the Islamist president and the Muslim Brotherhood, even to the exclusion of secularists. And when Morsi was ousted on July 3, the administration
avoided calling it a coup so as not to jeopardize its aid relationship with the Egyptian military.