Let us cut to the chase: What happened in Egypt this past week was a brazen power grab by the military. Call it a coup, a putsch or an overthrow of a legitimately elected president: It is certainly a dangerous precedent that must be condemned.
Egyptians waited a long time for democracy. Never in its long history did Egypt have competitive elections before June 2012, when Mohammed Morsi was elected as president. It is dismaying that Egypt's experiment with democracy has ended so abruptly.
To be sure, many Egyptians were outraged by Morsi's authoritarian style and contempt for state institutions, particularly the judiciary. Under his brief tenure, the economy tanked, foreign reserves dwindled, unemployment soared, sectarian tensions intensified, and women's groups and minorities were marginalized. This led millions of people to take to the streets demanding the president's resignation and political reforms, including new elections.
But did this justify military intervention and the ousting of a freely elected president? The answer is no.
President Obama has refrained from using the word "coup" in referring to the events in Egypt. Acknowledging the coup may risk Egypt losing the more than $1.5 billion it receives annually from the United States.
But others were not so hesitant: The African Union has just suspended Egypt's membership over Morsi's ouster. The United Nations and the European Union expressed grave concern over the army takeover.
Egypt today faces a fateful moment. Scenes on the streets of Cairo are eerily reminiscent of the repressive Mubarak era, such as police and army troops firing on unarmed demonstrators. History is repeating itself, and violence will inevitably lead to more violence. It is a vicious cycle.
As confrontation continues during the coming weeks and months, the euphoria of Morsi's opponents — and there are many of them — will be replaced by a new, sadder sense of realism. The overthrow of the Morsi government will produce a period of chaos and instability and create bitterness and resentment among a large segment of the population.
As the crisis escalates, a crucial question arises: Is Egypt at risk of becoming a failed state?
Revolutions and uprisings tend to be violent, chaotic and bloody. In the short run, confrontations between Egypt's armed forces and the Muslim Brotherhood are inevitable. In the last few days, numerous clashes have erupted between Islamist groups and security forces.
Supporters of the deposed president have promised to fight to death against the army. We should never lose sight of the fact that the army is drafted from the people, and excessive use of force might risk the collapse of the armed forces.
Long-term economic, social and political problems will persist. These are structural problems that have plagued the country for a very long time. The next few weeks will be crucial in deciding the fate of Egypt.
Also, there's reason to be concerned about the long-term repercussions of military intervention in the internal affairs of the country. The army had ruled Egypt since 1952, when officers toppled King Farouk, a corrupt monarch who was becoming increasingly unpopular. Nevertheless, Egypt's experiment with military dictatorships has not been encouraging, particularly during the last 30 years.
Once again, the armed forces are poised to rule Egypt. Adly Mansour, the chief justice of Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court who was appointed as interim president, is nothing but a figurehead. The real power will lie with Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sis and his colleagues at the Military Supreme Council.
There is no question that after one year of Morsi's rule, Egypt is worse off. Forty million Egyptians live below the poverty line. Unemployment among women exceeds 30 percent. Corruption and nepotism are rampant. I have grave concerns about the future of Egypt.
Let us hope that Justice Mansour's tenure will be brief and that his interim government will succeed in its mission to hold free and open elections and to transition Egypt into a stable democracy.
Changes must come via the ballot box, not through the barrel of a gun.
Ghassan E. El-Eid is associate professor of political science at Central Connecticut State University.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun