More than a week after the Egyptian military ousted the Islamist-led presidency of Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood, from which Morsi hails, continue to mobilise their followers on the streets and demand his reinstatement.
Far from backing down, the Islamist organisation has pledged to resist what it has called a “fascist coup”, and has rejected any dialogue with the transitional government that does not restore the popularly elected Morsi.
For the military, the Brotherhood’s demand is a non-starter, and both camps and their supporters face a deadlock that can now only be broken through either a political compromise or an all-out confrontation.
There is a real danger of further polarisation and escalation in Egypt, where the writing is already on the wall with the arrest of Morsi and the demonisation of the Brotherhood by the Egyptian media and elements of the secular-leaning opposition.
In interviews with the Islamist rank-and-file over the past 20 years in Egypt and elsewhere, it has become clear that religious activists are nourished on a belief in the movement’s divine victory and they are willing to endure sacrifice, hardship, and loss to bring about that desired end.
But the decades of persecution that drove the Islamists underground left deep scars on their psychology and imagination — and as a result, they often view wider society as intrinsically hostile to their cause.
The Egyptian military’s ouster of Morsi will reinforce this siege mentality and the sense of victimhood and injustice among the Muslim Brothers and their followers.
The likelihood of the Brotherhood taking up arms against the military like their Algerian counterparts in the early 1990s is minimal. The most influential Islamist group in the Arab world renounced the use of force and violence in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
One of the lessons learned by the Brothers from their experience underground from the 1940s until the late 1960s is that violence is counterproductive and endangers the very survival of the movement.
In particular, the old guard, including Badie, who have a vivid institutional memory of the underground years, won’t fall into the trap of militarily confronting — they would not risk it all.
The real potential danger is that individual members could join extremist groups in the Sinai desert and elsewhere to exact vengeance against Egypt’s security forces. If the political deadlock continues, the Brotherhood might not be able or willing to control some of its followers, a recipe for creeping armed clashes with the security apparatus.
The longer the Muslim Brothers continue their protests and resistance, the more likely the military is to intensify its crackdown against them. At this stage, it is unconceivable that the military would reinstate Morsi as his supporters demand — far from it, in fact.
In his first address, as an interim president last week, Adly Mansour, previously head of the constitutional court, warned against stoking unrest and promised to fight those he said wanted to destabilise the state.
His warning is designed to convey a message to the Brotherhood by the military.
There is a race against time between escalation and a political dialogue, and neither the military nor Morsi’s supporters are disposed to compromise. While the military is emboldened and in charge, the Muslim Brothers have their backs against the wall.
Regardless of the outcome, this titanic and seemingly intractable struggle undermines Egypt’s fragile democratic experiment because there is a real danger that once again the Islamists will be suppressed and excluded from the country’s political space.
This does not bode well for Egypt’s democratic transition because there will be no institutionalisation of democracy without the Brotherhood, the biggest and oldest mainstream religiously-based Islamist movement in the Middle East.