The second wildcard is the position the military would take if such confrontation occurred. And this brings us to the second unknown factor. In 2011, the military was crucial to avoiding large-scale bloodshed. Although some 800 people died in the uprising, the toll was nothing compared to what it could have been had the army decided to intervene to protect Mubarak. After ruling the country through its Supreme Council of the Armed Forces between Mubarak’s downfall and President Morsi’s election, the military withdrew from politics last August and has not been heard since.
With a confrontation looming between secular and Islamist forces in the streets of Cairo and other cities, the military may not be able to remain on the sidelines. There are undoubtedly both Islamist and secular sympathies within the military, and their conflict could have a significant impact.
After almost two years of an uncertain and poorly managed transition, the battle for control over Egypt is now fully engaged. It will not lead to democracy. Egypt’s transition is not drawing to a close and the future promises to be messier than the past.
Marina Ottaway is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.