The Egyptian military had a great opportunity to remake the revolution on 3 July when it overthrew the moribund and definitely failed post-revolutionary Muslim Brotherhood experiment—but it has squandered that opportunity by resorting to sheer violence, and the interim government that has backed it will not recoup from the carnage.
As of Sunday morning, at least 580 and possibly closer to 700 people had been killed in a military campaign to clear out supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and ousted president Mohamed Morsi in the Egyptian capital, Cairo.
This is a pyrrhic victory for the military, which may have temporarily averted civil war but has destroyed chances for any semblance of true stability in the near-term by ruining the credibility of the interim leaders who have supported its efforts since the coup.
The military has now created masses of enemies, including radical Islamists, and despite the carnage, the Muslim Brotherhood is still not giving up. They will continue to march on Cairo, and take a beating.
The military—and indeed even the Muslim Brotherhood—have come to erroneously view the only solution as winner-take-all.
The military has sorely misjudged its support base, though. While it enjoys significant support, that support is diverse and the mix of liberals and conservatives that comprise it are is a unified group that guarantees a green light for the military to use force as it sees fit.
Now the interim government—which represents this mix of diverse support for the military—is wondering what to do next. If indeed, it has any credibility to do anything at all.
The first figure to see what was coming and how it might ruin his credibility was interim vice-president Mohamed ElBaradei, who resigned right after the military descended on the pro-Morsi sit-in and the first death toll began to reach the hundreds. He publicly condemned the military’s actions and thus he has potentially saved enough credibility to play a role in the future. Others were not so quick on the uptake here, and their credibility will be fully destroyed.
The military did have a choice, and it chose carnage. The alternative would have been to defuse tension, at least on some level, by releasing those key Muslim Brotherhood figures, including Morsi himself, which was the most significant catalyst for the ongoing sit-in. Now it may be too late for this small concession to make any difference.
The Muslim Brotherhood-Morsi experiment was a grand failure—economically and politically—but the military has squandered its opportunity to fix things. In the meantime, the military is making martyrs out the Muslim Brotherhood, and the situation will reverberate across the region.
This piece is cross-posted from Oil Price.com with permission.