For Nasser and his fellow Free Officers, bringing down the Brotherhood -- which had been an ally of sorts -- was critical to consolidating their power and advancing their political agenda. In the process, however, they helped create a dedicated and widely influential opposition. The ensuing struggle between the Muslim Brothers and the Egyptian state -- despite moments of accommodation -- has been one of the major pathologies both destabilizing Egyptian politics and used to justify the authoritarian nature of the political system for six decades now.
In the aftermath of the July 3 military intervention and the subsequent crackdown on the Brothers, the same risks for Egypt's political maturation are evident today. In a sad replay of history, Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat has issued arrest warrants for a who's who of high profile Brothers: Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie; his predecessor, Mahdi Akef; and such well-known figures in the West like Essam el-Erian. The charges include spying, killing protesters, inciting violence, possession of weapons, and breaking out of prison. Meanwhile, former President Mohammed Morsy remains in military custody -- not so far charged with a crime, but out of the political game nonetheless. There are also lawsuits seeking the dissolution of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party.
The Brotherhood's determination to resist such moves adds a new and potentially dangerous factor to Egyptian politics. In fact, these efforts to undermine the movement may actually give it new life at a moment when it is at its weakest. A narrative of victimhood that runs from October 1954 to July 2013 is a powerful mechanism of mobilization for the Brothers's base: The organization is already talking about a "culture of oppression," and can add this latest episode to their narrative about the injustice of contemporary Egyptian politics.
The only hope, according to some supporters of the coup and leading members of the new government, is "to bring the Muslim Brothers into the political process." Even if these kinds of declarations were not dripping in hypocrisy -- the same figures just spearheaded an effort to forcibly remove the Brotherhood from the process -- the Brothers's best strategy is to stay outside the political game and agitate against what they believe to be the fundamental illegitimacy of it. This will only add further instability to Egyptian politics, auguring more force, more arrests, and ultimately, authoritarian measures to establish political control.
There's always the risk that repression may produce splits and radicalized offshoots of the Brotherhood, but the longer-term consequences of July 3 are likely political. The precedent of pushing an elected president from power -- no matter how contested the election or unpopular the president -- suspending the constitution, and potentially banning political parties sets a dangerous precedent for Egypt's future. Morsy and his colleagues were intent on creating institutions that enhanced their power, which makes them no different from political and economic elites the world over. But what happens the next time a group of people determine they do not like their political chances? The July 3 military intervention could grow into a dangerous precedent for using authoritarian measures to alter Egyptian politics.
Morsy and the Brotherhood proved to be incompetent in government, but the real problem going forward may be the ease with which Egyptians believe they can disregard the political rules of the game. This will ultimately make it easier for authoritarians to rig the political system in their favor, all in the name of order and stability. As those who follow Egyptian history well know, it's happened before.
Even as many welcomed Sisi's move against Morsy and the Brotherhood as a way forward for Egyptian politics, the echoes of the past are ever-present. Egyptians might want to keep in mind that in October 1954, Egypt's generals rewrote the British-era military regulation as part of their effort to ensure their power after the confrontation with the Brotherhood. The revision expanded the powers of the military and became the forerunner of the Emergency Law of 1958 -- a symbol of tyranny that survived until Hosni Mubarak's era, and which provided a legal veneer for his crackdown on Islamist and non-Islamist opponents alike.