Bob Bowker is a former Australian ambassador to Jordan and Egypt.
The events of the past week in Egypt raise serious questions about the capacity of the political system in that country and elsewhere in the Arab world to contain, through constitutional means, the struggle between Islamists and those who reject the use of Islamic discourse and lifestyles in defining their identities.
The violence which followed the collapse of the political authority of the Morsi Government and the resumption, in effect, of military control makes it unlikely that an inclusive way forward can be found at the political level. Across the region, the case among Islamists for the transformation of Arab society through the ballot box has been severely damaged.
The rhetoric in Egypt from opponents and supporters of the new government, together with the upsurge of violence, sectarianism and resurgent populist politics, is a profoundly toxic combination so far as the future of Egyptian political life is concerned.
Apart from the tragic loss of life, the longer-term effect of recent events is to reinforce the sense of victimhood and frustration among Egyptian Islamists over what they see as an assault on constitutional and electoral legitimacy which they believed was rightfully theirs.
The Brotherhood and its supporters may well return to a pre-Arab uprising comfort zone of oppositional politics, focused on survival and organisational discipline. Conspiratorial versions of recent events will multiply. Self-critical thinking about how the opportunity was lost to turn the institutional power of the state to the advantage of the Islamist vision will be in short supply.
Less certain is whether the events of the last week will generate significant support for insurrection and violence directed against the state in Egypt and beyond.
Some individuals from the Brotherhood and from the salafist elements of Egyptian politics will cast their lot with the considerable number of Egyptians, Tunisians and Libyans who already participate in jihadist movements around the region. Militants in the Sinai may be even more difficult for the Egyptian military to manage. But there are multiple competing strands among Egyptian Islamists.
The inchoate, personality-driven nature of the salafist phenomenon in Egypt differs markedly from the decades-old institutional discipline of the Muslim Brotherhood. Historically, the salafist movement has been politically quiescent and opportunistic, while focused on building its following at the societal level. The Brotherhood, by contrast, has never taken that approach: it has maintained a strong social focus, but always while seeing itself as a political actor whose political freedoms were denied by successive unjust secular regimes.
Rivalries and divisions between the salafists and the Brotherhood are subsumed for the moment by anger at the deaths of protesters and the arrest of prominent individuals across the Islamist spectrum. But those rivalries may not be set aside for long. Short of a catastrophic societal breakdown along sectarian lines, which still remains unlikely, the siren call of political success at the expense of the Brotherhood will be hard for the salafists to resist.
Moreover, by securing the suspension, instead of the cancellation, of the Islamist-oriented constitution, the main salafist party, Al-Nour, has succeeded in holding on to those elements of the constitution that best fit its ideological orientation. And with the Muslim Brotherhood rejecting the recently announced road map to constitutional amendments and elections, the military needs Al-Nour onboard with the interim government. Al-Nour will make full use of that situation.
Although some salafist elements in the Gulf have called for supporting an Islamic revolution in Egypt, it is unlikely the Saudis would tolerate much support going to the opponents of a government set on repressing the Brotherhood (there is no place for monarchies in the Brotherhood's Islamist vision).
It is impossible to know whether the Brotherhood will accept the revisions envisioned by the military for the suspended constitution and be part of the elections that will follow, or whether it will opt for a spoiling role.
The Brotherhood is in no mood to talk at the moment, but the legitimacy card will lose value fairly steadily. If the government appears to be consolidating, at some point there will have to be a decision by the Brotherhood's leadership whether to re-engage with politics or risk losing the ability to bounce back through electoral means.
Rhetoric aside, the Brotherhood would appear unlikely to risk its self-destruction through organised acts of violence. A cyclical view of history would encourage pragmatic adjustment instead. Unless it abandons politics altogether, which would be a departure from its history, the Brotherhood needs to keep open its ability to participate in electoral contests. The US and most other Western governments see inclusiveness as necessary, even if many Egyptians do not.
If it opts out of political life conducted by a military government it deems illegitimate, and under rules it considers unacceptable, the Brotherhood may still choose to re-engage later.
If however the Brotherhood is formally excluded from re-entering Egyptian politics, the die will be cast. Islamist insurrection will return in Egypt, not on the scale witnessed in Syria, but capable of deepening social polarisation and the crisis of legitimacy of civilian politics. The core issues of identity, dignity and economic insecurity that the processes of social change and the failure of Egypt's political class have caused to emerge would remain unresolved.