Once again, Egyptians are out in the streets. Yet these demonstrations are quite different from those in January and February 2011, when people of every faith, class, and political persuasion joined together to bring down a dictator. Indeed, Egypt's triumph of national unity has turned into a bitter impasse over narrow interests. Demonstrators surround the Supreme Constitutional Court not to protect the sacred institution but to shut it down, judges declare an open-ended strike, and groups of angry protesters rally against one another, each challenging the other's right to a place in the national dialogue. In the abstract, heated debate is a good thing for countries undergoing political transitions. In Egypt, however, the result has been instability.

There are a variety of explanations for Egypt's tribulations. Some argue that decisions made by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF)  back in February and March 2011, including on the timing of the transition and the principles that guided it, explain the current bind. Others point to the lack of a permanent constitution and parliament, which the SCAF dissolved in June 2012 at the recommendation of Egypt's highest court. These critics argue that the absence of rules, regulations, and laws left the country vulnerable

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  • STEVEN A. COOK is Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
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