Egypt on the Brink

Extraordinary events are unfolding in Egypt.

Millions of people (millions!) surged into the streets of Cairo and demanded President Mohamed Morsi resign. Egyptian newspaper Al Masry Al Youm claims this was the biggest demonstration in thousands of years of Egyptian history.

Egyptian activist and blogger Sandmonkey posted the following on Twitter: “Dear World, pay attention: Muslims protesting in the millions against Islamism. This is Historic.”

It certainly is.

And the army is on side with the demonstrators. Commanders have given Morsi 48 hours to share power or be overthrown.

Meanwhile, protestors ransacked Muslim Brotherhood offices and a handful of people, including an American student named Andrew Pochter, were killed in clashes between Islamists and secularists.

I don’t have a clue where all this is heading. Not a clue. Just about anything could happen at this point.

It might all blow over. I’d be surprised if that happened, but I’m also surprised this is happening.

The army might actually remove Morsi from power. This is exactly how Hosni Mubarak was overthrown. Protesters took to the streets and demanded he be removed, and the army took care of it.

Political Islam may be in the process of being discredited in Egypt before our very eyes. Then again, the Salafists may win hearts and minds by saying the Muslim Brothers were too moderate, that the only solution to what ails Egypt is their stern and unyielding and total imposition of political Islam.

Egypt could revert to its age-old default condition and be ruled again by a military dictatorship.

Civilian technocrats might take over.

Morsi could purge the army again and impose a vicious police state of his own.

Egypt could cycle through a rapid series of new presidents like Argentina did some years back when its economy collapsed.

Egypt isn’t prone to communal civil war like Lebanon, Syria, Algeria, and Iraq, but there’s a first time for everything.

Maybe none of the above scenarios will come to pass, but all of them are possible.

If Morsi is replaced, the new president will not have an easier time governing Egypt even if he does everything right. Egypt’s economy, an emergency room case to begin with, is imploding. Half the population lives on less than two dollars a day because they have no education or skills. That’s not a problem that can be fixed any time soon. Tourists won’t return any time soon, and Egypt desperately needs tourist dollars and Euros.

Nor will Egypt’s authoritarian political culture instantly become Jeffersonian. That could eventually happen, but it’s not going to happen before Wednesday morning.

Whatever comes next, the misnamed “Arab Spring” appears to be moving to a new phase.

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