Now that the dust in Egypt appears to be settling the main question is what the next move of the Muslim Brotherhood, or at least its members is going to be. While there is a lot of talk about civil strife and possibly an all-out war between Islamists and the army that deposed them – as was the case in Algeria – there are certainly many reasons to doubt this gloomy assessment. Some were enumerated by Khaled Fahmy just after the coup: the Muslim Brotherhood had its chance and failed, they were not attentive to the aims of the revolution, violence has been abandoned earlier by the Brotherhood as an ineffective means, the army’s actions are the result of the ‘will of the youth’ that led the 2011 revolution.
It is questionable whether Fahmy’s last assessment is right. After all, the coup was planned some time before the demonstrations had started and not as an effect of the youth’s discontent, but rather as a preemptive measure by the generals to prevent Morsi from sacking them. The others however are quite spot on. The Brothers have lacked in political savvy, thereby squandering their chance at real, lasting power by showing themselves incapable of leading the country. They lack the support and increasingly the sympathy of the majority of the Egyptians to warrant a successful violent grab for power.
Moreover, violence is not clearly a winning strategy in Egypt. In a country where the military is as embedded in society as it is in Egypt, it is hard to get your insurgence of the ground. The Brothers recognized this in the nineties and despite a brief democratic stint between 2011 and 2013, their dictatorial structure is still in place, leaving them little other option than to again steer the course of grassroots politics.
One more reason why organized violence against the government has a low probability of success is because of the nature of the country. Egypt is effectively a desert with an urbanized corridor running down the middle. The only chance you’d stand as a minority fighting the regime is through guerilla warfare. This is not possible in the cities of the Nile valley, while the surrounding desert is too open to harbour gangs of guerilla fighters. The only region suitable for such resistance is the Sinai – which is exactly the area that is slipping out of the army’s control.
Add to these factors the lack of substantial international backing for the Muslim Brotherhood, especially were it to go violent, and the very real interest that the affluent part of the Arab world has in shoring up the military regime and we have a rather convincing case against the despondent contingent of pundits. This is not to say of course that Egypt isn’t headed for violent, tumultuous times. Fanatics don’t generally act on a rational assessment of the possibility for successful insurgence. Taking the majority of the population and of the Brotherhood’s membership to have not yet lost its head, civil war is not in the offing.