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The Resurgence of the Regimes in the Arab World

So is the return of military domination in Egypt a return to "secular" nationalist Arab governance?

Not so fast.

First of all, the latest developments suggest the Muslim Brotherhood has chosen not to accept the verdict of the generals. Instead, the movement now appears to be trying to incite rebellion. Its Freedom and Justice party has called for "an uprising by the great people of Egypt against those trying to steal their revolution with tanks."

Dozens people have already been killed.

So the stage seems set for an ongoing, bloody showdown between the ancien regime and the Brotherhood -- as in Syria, but with the difference that in the Egyptian case, neither of the sides is aligned with Iran. This is an intra-Sunni conflict.

Secondly, the Egyptian resurgent regime side is itself not "secular" in any western sense. General al-Sisi is a devoutly observant Muslim. Among his main supporters is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which regards its own monarchical absolutism as the correct form of Islamic governance, and hates and fears the Muslim Brothers. The Saudis were also among the first to congratulate the putschist Egyptian officers, as was the United Arab Emirates.

The Saudis have emerged as the key opponents of the Brotherhood in the region. In this, their approach is in direct contrast to that adopted by neighboring Qatar, which is the main backer of the MB. The Egyptian generals will be relying on Saudi largesse to stave off economic catastrophe in the months ahead. Qatari generosity will be a casualty of the coup.

So the generals’ coup in Egypt has proven conclusively that the old, nationalist regimes are not finished yet. The Muslim Brotherhood, in Syria and now in Egypt, has been faced down. The fight is not over in either country.

But the fight is over power, not over ideology or methods of governance. The Muslim Brotherhood, General al-Sisi, the Syrian rebels, Bashar Assad, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Qatar may be at loggerheads but they have the following in common: none of them are democrats and none of them are interested in democracy.

The issue for the west, therefore, should be which of these forces are interested in pragmatic alignment with the west, and which wish to oppose it. On this basis, the west should determine its attitude toward the various players in the roiling Middle East.

(Thumbnail on PJM homepage created using multiple Shutterstock.com images.)