The seizure of control by the military in Egypt will likely embolden the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and could push the country into a devastating civil war resembling Algeria in the 1990s, experts on the region said Monday.
The experts presented a dour outlook for Egypt, a country struggling to erect a functioning democracy after sixty years of military and dictatorial rule, at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Violence has spread in the country since Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi deposed President Mohamed Morsi, a member of the Brotherhood, on July 3 in response to protests of his increasingly authoritarian rule. Almost 300 people have died in fighting between pro- and anti-Morsi camps as the military attempts to restore stability and stage elections within six months.
The Muslim Brotherhood has so far declined invitations to meet with the interim government, an early indication that they could be disillusioned with democracy after Morsi’s downfall, said Samuel Tadros, a research fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom.
"The idea that only through the bullet can you have the dream will certainly tempt another generation of Islamists," he said.
There are also early signs that continued Brotherhood intransigence could spark an overcorrection from the military, said Reuel Marc Gerecht, a senior fellow with the foundation. Egyptian security forces shot at least 83 Brotherhood supporters over the weekend, according to reports.
Further crackdowns by the Egyptian military would parallel civil strife in other African nations, such as Algeria, the experts said.
Efforts by the Algerian armed forces to ban the country’s Islamist party from elections in the early 1990s triggered a larger conflict that raged until a ceasefire in 1997.
"Algeria later said the violence was a mistake," Gerecht said. "I don’t know that that type of wisdom will be translated well through North Africa."
The U.S. response to the bloodshed in Egypt has been cagey. President Barack Obama announced last week that he would halt the planned delivery of four F-16 fighter jets to Egypt, but a funding bill that would maintain $1.3 billion in assistance to the Egyptian military, with conditions attached, continues to move through the Senate.
Tadros criticized what he viewed as mixed signals from the Obama administration toward various actors in Egypt. The administration initially supported former dictator Hosni Mubarak before he was toppled by a popular uprising in 2011, then stood behind Morsi when protesters decried his incompetent rule, he said.
"It is not that [the administration] had the wrong policy in Egypt. They did not have one in the first place," Tadros said.
"And now they are shocked with this protest in Egypt and really don’t know how to handle it."
Gerecht said he favored an immediate withdrawal of U.S. aid until elections are held. Islamist groups like the al-Nour Party would likely win the elections due to their closer connections to poor Egyptians in rural areas, but democracy cannot begin to take root until the competition of elections is sustained, he said.
"It is the process of elections that start to build things, and if you short circuit things, you take yourself back to zero," he said.