I think everyone can agree that Egypt is a mess. I’ll give a pass to al Qaeda (who crave chaos within which to fester), but generally, everyone views the situation as problematic – geopolitically, humanistically and economically.
So what do we do?
Any response should be serially filtered through two criteria: (a) strategic, i.e., which outcome offers the better future for US interests and those of the free world, and traditionally, (b) moral, i.e., which outcome offers the better future for Egypt. But first, we should define the playing field – what end-states are we contemplating: “democracy”; totalitarianism; authoritarianism; stability? And the players – the Muslim Brotherhood; the military; everybody else.
There is much face-time being taken up by congressmen who are shocked! … shocked! … by the brutality of the military’s crackdown on perpetual mobs in the center of town, and are calling for an end to our $1.3 billion in foreign aid. How does that further American interests in Egypt/the region? And how does that improve the outlook for Egypt?
The outcome we, and the lesser part of the street, want is for a secular, democratic Egypt to emerge from the chaos. Not going to happen. Our real choice is between the Muslim Brotherhood (totalitarianism) and the military (authoritarianism). They loathe one another, so the odds against some sort of coalition has a lot of 9s in it.
What are our interests vis-à-vis Egypt? (1) a secure Suez Canal, (2) friendly ties with the US, (3) continued alliance with the pro-American Gulf Arabs and Jordanians, (4) retention of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty, (5) cooperation with the US on terrorism, which in part involves (6) isolating Brotherhood-run Gaza. Is the Brotherhood more or less likely than the military to keep the Suez open and operating? Is the Brotherhood more or less likely than the military to establish/maintain working relations with America? Is the Brotherhood more or less likely than the military to be a reliable partner with pro-American Arabs and Hashemite Jordan? Is the Brotherhood more or less likely than the military to honor the Camp David Accords? Is the Brotherhood more or less likely than the military to be complicit in jihadist activity in North Africa, Sudan and Mali? And especially in Gaza, where the Brotherhood-sired Hamas is locked in a blood feud with Israel? These are the constituent parts of regional stability – the World’s largest Arab state can influence the behavior of lesser Arab states and actors. It’s what it’s been doing for half a century. “If I can’t get sectarian democracy, I’ll take regional stability,” should be our strategic mindset with Egypt. Since Mubarak did all of those things for thirty years, and the military is the power behind the throne, I would say that backing the military against the Brotherhood would best serve American interests in Egypt.
Regarding Egypt herself, we should favor an outcome that will: (1) manage a growing economy – with a vibrant economy, all things are possible; without one, nothing is even probable, (2) respect the rights of women and minorities, (3) encourage economic freedom, (4) lean toward self-determination, and (5) exercise religious tolerance. These are the best outcomes for the Egyptian people. Which player gets a higher score through these filters? I think, again, the military is a closer fit to these criteria than is the Brotherhood.
The street is of two minds – and I’m not speaking of pro-Morsi or anti-Morsi, rather democrats and Islamists. The democrats started the revolution that ousted Mubarak, but the Islamists have since taken the movement over through their superior brutishness. The pro-Morsi street is the voice of Islamism, which, when peeved, burns churches. The Brotherhood invented modern omni-national jihad 85 years ago, and have been practicing it ever since. We’ve seen their economic prowess in Gaza, which they’ve turned from a thriving shop-driven neighborhood of neighborhoods into a squalid armed ghetto.
In his brief tenure, President Morsi offered nothing but incompetent, intolerant, increasingly dictatorial rule. In one year, he managed to squander 85 years of Brotherhood prestige garnered in opposition – a place from which one can promise the Moon – by persecuting journalists and activists, granting himself the unchallenged power to rule by decree, enshrining a sectarian Islamist constitution and systematically trying to seize the instruments of state power. He was dissociating the military from state policy in order to coopt it.
This is going to sound odd for a constitutionalist conservative, but I do not favor existentially introducing “democracy” into Egypt, and I do not favor Muslim Brotherhood [civilian] control of the military. I favor a stability underwritten by a pro-Western, if authoritarian, military over a one-man-one-vote-one-time “democracy”, à la Gaza, underwritten by xenophobic religious tyrants.
 The Egyptian-Israeli Camp David Accord is the only thing allowing an Israeli non-war status quo, and with the Muslim Brotherhood in political control of Egypt (Morsi administration), the future of the Accord is in serious doubt. The Suez Canal is a major oil route for Europe-bound tankers, and is vastly cheaper than shooting the Cape (the next cheapest alternative to get from Arabian oil fields to European ports). Egypt does not drive, but does influence – can measurably ameliorate or exacerbate – the establishment of radical Islamists in North Africa, Sudan and Mali.
 The ubiquitous brutalizing of the Egyptian people by their own military and police, and because of the Muslim Brotherhood’s ritualistic killing of Coptic Christians and the razing of their homes and churches (it walks and quacks a lot like ethnic cleansing). This is all on top of the normal human cost of armed conflict, and all the more pronounced in urban conflict (the nastiest venue for combat operations).
 The obvious threat to European oil delivery costs, but also due to Egypt’s foreign trade and tourism – both of which are essentially non-existent during the chaos. Also, the street violence has all but shut-down local shops and businesses – thereby impoverishing the walking citizens of Cairo (and whatever other cities are daily embroiled in street violence).
 The best chance Palestinians had to rally the civilized world to their side was to establish a viable economy and civil institutions in Gaza, showing that they were able to operate a state.
 See Charles Krauthammer, The choice in Egypt: A dictatorship is better for the country and the US, in Washington Post, August 23 2013.
NOTE: Title art by Bill Day.