The Egyptian revolution is dead
● Majority-backed Egyptian military crushes liberal protesters as Islamists dominate elections
When Israel's new ambassador to Cairo, Yaakov Amitai, arrived in the land of the pharaohs last week, he was not welcomed by an official delegation. Instead, he was greeted by the news that, for the tenth time since February's revolutionary ousting of Hosni Mubarak, a gas pipeline carrying natural gas to Israel had just been blown up by saboteurs.
Tahrir Square was also ablaze, as Egypt's die-hard revolutionaries were beaten to a pulp by out-of-control soldiers. This marked the moment when the military junta crushed any lingering hopes that the Arab Spring would bless the country with anything but a return to tedious authoritarianism and state-sponsored savagery.
An anti-junta demonstration by a small number of women, appalled at the brutal beating of one defenceless female protester that had been caught on video and had sent shockwaves around the world, could do nothing to hide the fact that the overwhelming majority of Egyptians, fed up with the chaos, crimewave and a spiralling economy, were cheering on the army's crackdown.
After all, preliminary results for the second round of parliamentary elections had just revealed that the Muslim Brotherhood and even more extremist Salafi parties took some 70 per cent of the vote - as they had the first round. The parties established by the core revolutionaries likewise repeated their dismal performance, barely managing to secure 10 per cent. The Islamists pointedly refused to rush to the aid of their former revolutionary comrades in Tahrir Square.
Meanwhile, Amitai himself had to head for temporary accommodation: the Israeli Embassy was gutted by a mob days before his predecessor had fled under armed escort. And having arrived in the midst of such pandemonium, the principal goal he has been tasked with achieving - securing Egypt's 1979 peace treaty with the Jewish state - made him appear like nothing if not a parody of Tom Cruise in the opening sequence of a Mission Impossible movie.
But then, like some contrived plot twist in a Hollywood blockbuster, amidst the doom and gloom, observers of the drama were given crucial hope for a happy ending.
The spokesman for the Salafi Al-Nour Party, Yousri Hammad, improbably offered a helping hand by suggesting his party would hold direct talks with Israel. "Egypt is signatory to international treaties and these have to be respected," he said. "This is not my personal opinion or that of the party chairman. It is part of the party's policies."
The Muslim Brotherhood, while insisting that the peace treaty needed "re-evaluation by the country's new parliament", also reassured everyone that achieving this aim was far from their "top priority". Extraordinarily, as the Islamists take the reins of power and therefore seek with greater urgency to pacify Western fears about their allegedly extremist impulses, one of their most useful allies might actually turn out to be Amitai.
Their top priorities indeed lie elsewhere: Islamising Egyptian society from below by obsessing over pious trivia like bikinis and alcohol, while consolidating their implicit pact with the ruling military junta. As part of the quid pro quo, Cairo's generals held a press conference this week to blame "loose women" for the ongoing riots - a line not propagated as of now by even the most reactionary of Egypt's Islamist bigots.
In turn, by insisting on only minor, but headline-grabbing, amendments to the peace treaty, the Islamists will achieve two key goals, in addition to enhancing their reputation as moderates in the West. They seek to appease their core base and help secure the increasingly vital $1.4 million annual payoff Egypt's generals get from Washington for ensuring that the peace treaty is honoured.
Amitai's mission, then, suddenly looks anything but impossible. But as has so often proved to be the case in the unfolding Arab Spring narrative when it comes to Egypt, what may be good news for Israel is yet more bad news for those pushing for an end to military dictatorship and a freer, more pluralistic and secular Egyptian society.
John R Bradley is the author of 'After the Arab Spring: How Islamists Hijacked the Middle East Revolts' (Palgrave Macmillan)