And while the situation is less cut and dry than some observers make it sound, one thing seems clear: there are two players apparently intent on accelarating a conflict that is likely to wind up as an actual civil war.
On the one hand, the Muslim Brotherhood (supported by Qatar, Turkey and some other foreign interests) who have nothing left to lose. Since being ousted from power, their very political existence is now threatened, and risk sliding back to their darkest years.
Still, the Brotherhood does have several important points in its favor: a good organization that reaches across the entire Egyptian territory, numerous determined activists who enrolled years ago and notable financial power that allows them to count on sufficient resources over the next few months.
On the other hand, the army of general Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and the "secular" segments of the population, along with the religious minorities (Copts, Shia, etc), can no longer backtrack if they want to avoid an "Iranian scenario" – the installation of a theocracy, this time dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood.
The generals in power know that from now on, their salvation — and possibly their life — hangs only on their "victory." The Egyptian army is being quietly supported by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Emirates who, apart from the fact that they are both delighted to outdo Qatar — considered to be too active in the Middle East — fear mostly for their own internal governing stability.
But their support could end at any moment depending on how the situation evolves. It should be noted that several state and religious officials have moved away from the army, as they did not want their reputation to be sullied by the bloodshed: among them are former Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb.
The Salafists (partly represented by the al-Nour party) also come into the mix. From a religious perspective, they are more extreme than the Muslim Brotherhood. They first backed the army because the Brotherhood were their main rivals in the generally pious Egyptian population. But now, they are biding their time, waiting to see how events unfold before deciding which position to take.
Start with "Who Started?"
The jihadists, more or less linked to Al Qaeda and very important in the Sinai, are another component to consider. Opposed to both Israel and the Egyptian army, they could take advantage of the present unrest to reinforce their positions in the region and recruit new activists. To some extent, they have already started. Some of their members' statements leave no room for doubt: they called for jihad, and asked for fighters from abroad to "defend" the Sunnis. And the enemy is clearly nominated: "Christians and secularists, the army, the police and soldiers of the Pharaoh and, behind them, the Jewish forces and the crusaders."
It is no surprise that the international community "condemns" the violence, and most countries have openly asked for it to end. But they should first start with a proper analysis of the situation. Who started it? The Muslim Brotherhood, who illegally demonstrated, who were warned by the authorities three days before the operation and who killed about 40 members of the armed forces? Or those same armed forces who went in heavy-handed in the face of provocations, including heavy gunfire?
It is always difficult to know who opened fire first, but one thing is certain: some of the "pacifist" demonstrators were carrying fire arms. Some intellectuals in the Arab-Muslim world, although they're a minority, reckon that when facing radical Islam, the people are in a state of "self-defense".
Of course, all this is regularly captured on video and broadcast on Al Jazeera — the well-known news channel from Qatar — destined to be shown over and over by other television channels across the region. The propaganda war will now rage like it did at the beginning of the tragic events in Syria.
All of this means that an "Algerian scenario" is perfectly conceivable: in 1992, the elections that were supposed to bring the Islamic Salvation Front to power were cancelled by the army, plunging the country into a civil war, the embers of which are still lurking today.
The Muslim Brotherhood has already triggered turmoil in the whole of Egypt and the security forces do not have the necessary means to face it. Everything will depend on the support they get from abroad.
As for the Muslim Brotherhood, will they join forces with the Salafist Jihadists? For now, it is a possibility that may happen for tactical purposes, if nothing else. At any rate, the consequences of these events, though immeasurable, risk affecting the whole of the Middle East.
*Alain Rodier is research director of the French Center for Intelligence Research