The revolutionaries have much to answer for as well. With all the creativity and energy that went into bringing Mubarak down and is currently going into plans to transform Egyptian society, there has also been much narcissism and revolutionary navel-gazing. The instigators of Mubarak's fall have seemed to be more focused on burnishing their revolutionary cred on Twitter and Facebook -- which are not accessible to the vast majority of Egyptians -- than doing the hard work of political organizing. For months, the revolutionaries have largely spurned the political process that began after Mubarak's ouster. After they were trounced in the March 19 constitutional referendum, many tuned out and began searching for ways to recapture the lightning in a bottle that was January 25.
But they have largely failed to do so. The 17 "Fridays of …" over the spring and summer reflected political goals less than a "I protest, therefore I am" sensibility. It culminated with a two-week sit-in at Tahrir Square that -- because it brought Cairo to a halt and deteriorated into a carnival of self-congratulation rather than a serious political statement -- did much damage to the revolutionaries in the eyes of sympathetic Egyptians. All through the spring and summer, while the revolutionaries were imagining themselves as a permanent revolution against the military, the hated felool ("remnants" of the old regime), or anyone who dared disagree with them, the Muslim Brothers were hard at work, taking advantage of the greatest political opportunity they have had since a schoolteacher named Hassan al-Banna founded the group in December 1928.
If the revolutionaries and their supporters are now stunned that the Islamists -- both the Brotherhood and the Salafists -- are set to dominate post-uprising Egypt, they must take a hard look at what they have done, or not done, over the last 11 months. Indeed, their ability to read Egyptian public sentiment is as bad as that of the military, and a good deal more myopic.
The Muslim Brothers are just about the only ones who have played post-Mubarak Egypt well. Although they did not instigate the uprising, they understood how events were unfolding and helped hasten the demise of a regime they reviled. Additionally, unlike the revolutionaries, the Brothers shrewdly put themselves in a position to prevail. It is not the revolutionaries who scare the military -- it is the Brotherhood, which is capable of displacing the officers as the source of authority and legitimacy in the political system.
Now that the Brothers are poised to dominate parliament, what will be their approach to politics? So far, they have adopted a pragmatic path in an effort to persuade Egyptians and the international community that they can be good stewards of Egypt. For example, the Brothers have reached out to business leaders in Egypt and abroad to solicit their advice on managing the economy and have evinced a decidedly moderate public posture on questions related to minority rights, women, and tourism. This makes sense, given the organization's worldview and historical political strategy, which has always been that time is on its side.
But one should not expect the Muslim Brotherhood to wait forever. Huge protests on July 8 and Nov. 18 demonstrated its political power, while at the same time heightening tensions and polarizing the public. It is hard to believe that with Egypt now within their grasp, the Brothers will settle to lead from behind and pass up the chance to realize their historical goal of ruling the country. If the Islamists cannot resist the temptation to rule and govern, they are heading for a mighty showdown with the SCAF.
The optimistic view is that Egyptians are deep in the throes of a wrenching national debate that will take many years to work out, but is nevertheless healthy. It is, however, becoming increasingly difficult to make that case. To be sure, Egypt is a cacophony of ideas, projects, initiatives, and manifestos. Yet there is no moral leadership to give the best of ideas national political meaning and content. Egypt's would-be wise men have tried -- but pro-democracy stalwart Mohamed ElBaradei could not do it during the uprising, and Essam Sharaf was not strong enough politically to withstand the competing demands of the revolutionaries, officers, and Islamists as prime minister. It remains to be seen whether other Egyptian leaders such Amr Moussa, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, or Khairat El Shater can be that person, but they are all divisive personalities who may do more to undermine social cohesion than repair it.
The result of all this is Tahrir's Frankenstein monster where there is no leadership, no moral force, no common cause, and no sense of decency. Egyptians are in trouble, and there is not much anyone can do to help them. After these spasms of violence you often hear from Egyptians, "This is not Egypt." It is time for them to prove it.