Three questions on Egypt: Three radical scenarios and one viable option

President Morsi has made many political miscalculations, but the opposition is divided and Egypt’s deadlock persists.

Egypt protests
Egypt's armed forces gave President Morsi an ultimatum to agree on a platform with rivals [Reuters]

How did Egypt descend into this dangerous political deadlock?

There are a number of reasons why Egypt has descended into this situation. First of all, the Muslim Brotherhood and its political wing, The Justice and Freedom Party, chose to govern alone without soliciting support from the wider political spectrum.

President Mohamed Morsi has made several major political miscalculations, including the pseudo-constitutional expansion of his presidential powers that was struck down by the supreme court; his establishment of a government made up mostly of Brotherhood members and their supporters; and lastly, his failure and that of the government to fulfill the minimum expectations that the people had for the revolution in 2011.

A second factor is the marginalisation of a whole cross-section of less-organised but equally popular groups such as seculars, liberals, leftists; and the alienation of women and youth from the decision-making process.

Despite attempts at dialogue between the president and the so-called coalition of major opposition forces or the National Salvation Front, mistrust and conflicting narratives about the aims of the revolution have eroded the relationship between these previous partners in the revolution to unseat Hosni Mubarak.

Third, the revolution failed to adequately deal with the old power centres and their business interests. In the process major sectors of the Egyptians who were associated with the old regime for pragmatic purposes were alienated, finding themselves out of the jobs, on the street and out of sync with the new Egypt.

Egyptian army issues 48-hour ultimatum

The lining up of the revolutionary forces and supporters of the old regime on the one side, versus the new president and his ruling party on the other, has worsened the problem and made it more difficult to ease tensions and redress grievances.

The failure of the various revolutionary forces – Islamists and secular, liberal and leftists, young and old, men and women – to form a collective transitional government, write up a new consensual constitution, and delineate a roadmap for transitioning to democracy meant that every major election or political decision became a source of friction between the two sides.

What’s the state of play today?

Those opposing Brotherhood rule and calling for President Morsi’s ousting (or for early elections) claim to lead a second revolution. On the other side, those supporting the president and the Brotherhood are accusing his detractors of crying foul and mounting a counter-revolution.

However, “new revolution” and “counter revolution” sound more like political slogans than representing the political reality of today’s Egypt.

The demands for early elections by the ultra-religious Salafist Nour party, the second-largest bloc in the dissolved parliament, has further weakened the position of the Muslim Brotherhood. Likewise, the opposition forces have been exploited and compromised by the “reactionary forces” of the old regime who are trying to reverse the clock on the progress made over the two years under the banner of a second revolution.

Further complicating the situation is the recent intervention of the military. The armed forces made an implicit call asking both sides of the conflict to avoid escalating to violence, and later issued another more explicit ultimatum after the June 30 mass demonstrations calling for an end to the escalation within 48 hours. If this ultimatum is not fulfilled, the military has said it will intervene to end the violence and lead the country out of deadlock.

It remains to be seen how the new military pressure could affect the dangerous “clash of wills” between the ruling party and the opposition threatening civil disobedience. It’s also unclear how the military is intending to interfere when Egyptians fill up the streets and public squares, and President Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood show no sign of stepping down or aside.

Where is Egypt heading?

Egyptians speak of three dangerous, but to my mind unlikely, scenarios in the medium-term.

First scenario: the generals will use the credit they believe they earned by demonstrating that they are the true guardians of the nation – exemplified by when they walked out on former president Mubarak – to act more forcefully in political affairs in the future. However, any re-militarisation of the state following a return of the military and the imposition of new emergency laws to govern what seems to be ungovernable country following two years of revolution is unrealistic. It’s not acceptable to the majority of Egyptians nor to the international community, especially among Egypt’s supporters and creditors.

Second scenario: the Muslim Brotherhood will take radical action by either stepping down and out of politics, or claiming exceptional new authorities to rule in these exceptional times. President Morsi and the leadership of the Justice and Freedom Party attempt to hold onto power perhaps too narrowly, which has diminished their capacity to communicate better and more modestly. As a result, they seemed at a loss facing the mounting public pressures and at times in denial over the need to make serious initiatives, not mere gestures, towards their former partners in the revolution. Be that as it may, I don’t think they are about to relinquish authority now after they enjoyed the taste of power.

Third scenario: the opposition, especially the part of which supported the old regime, will take over from the Muslim Brotherhood under the cover of the military intervention. Emboldened by the momentum of the streets to oust the president, it goes on to win future elections in coalition with anti-Islamist parties against a humiliated Brotherhood. This scenario not only makes unrealistic assumptions regarding the Muslim Brotherhood and its potent organisation, it also underestimates Egyptians’ true desire for positive change going forward, not backward. Make no mistake, the Muslim Brotherhood is not going anywhere and would more likely enter into confrontations to defend its turf than surrender to the opposition or the lackies of the old regime.

However, considering that Brotherhood is far less likely to be able to rule alone, and the opposition wont be able to do the same, the only truly viable option – in the intermediate and long term, and one that fulfills the demands of the revolution – is the reversal of the logic that governed the political process over the last two years. It begins by having a true national dialogue among equals, i.e. among the political and civic groups representing the Egyptian people and their revolution over the identity, constitution and roadmap of a democratic Egypt. This would necessitate forming a representative forum for such dialogue, along with a transitional government, all of which would pave the way towards a sustainable model of power-sharing in a future Egypt. Alas, easier said than done.

Marwan Bishara is the senior political analyst of Al Jazeera English and the author of The Invisible Arab: The Promise and Peril of the Arab Revolution .

Follow him on Twitter: @marwanbishara