The Egyptian military coup that ousted President Mohamed Morsi constitutes a major setback for that country -- and for the United States, in Egypt and in the Arab world.
Egypt matters to the United States due to its large population of 83 million, its location on the hinge of the Middle East and Africa and its long border with Israel, America's protectorate in that region.
Political reform, and with it economic reform, had been a long time coming in Egypt. Its monarchy, led by the famed sybarite King Farouk, was overthrown by the military in 1952, to be followed by a series of generals who became presidents, preserving a steady line of military rulers who took good care financially of the country's defense establishment, helped substantially by the United States with $2 billion per year in military aid.
Then came the Arab Spring, which now, particularly in light of what has taken place in Egypt, must be referred to with irony. Mohammed Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected president, was overthrown. Egypt's new constitution was suspended. The military, led by the brash Gen. Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, appointed an interim government headed by Adly Mansour, an obscure but veteran judge who was appointed last month by Mr. Morsi to become head of Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court after the term of its previous chief had expired. Many expect Mr. Mansour's interim regime to front for military rule.
Mr. Morsi certainly did not perform with distinction as president during his year in power. He and the Muslim Brotherhood which he represents probably pressed secular Egyptians too far in terms of the Islamicization of the country. More to the point, he did not address the grave economic problems of the country, which strike to the heart of the average Egyptian. These include unemployment, inflation, housing, schooling, health care and among much of the population even the ability to find enough to eat.
For the United States there will be temptation to come to terms again with the military, which has been in power for 60 of the last 61 years. The American military has had a relatively cozy relationship with their Egyptian counterpart, based on money.
The problem for Egypt is that a comfortable military will eat up a disproportionate share of the country's income and international aid that should go to economic development. That will fuel the other problem -- the massive, sometimes violent discontent that divides Egyptians into Islamists, supporters of former President Hosni Mubarak, the military and those who believe in the Arab Spring reforms.
The United States risks opting for stability through military rule, while the pressure continues to build among Egyptians and chaos rises in an important country, in a critical part of the world.