Two years ago, with the so-called Arab Spring, a moment of reckoning seemed to have arrived for autocratic rulers and dictators in the Arab world from the Maghreb to the Arabian Peninsula. For the first time in Arab history, a dictator in Tunis was ousted in a peaceful popular revolution. The Jasmine Revolution unleashed a wave of popular uprising against repressive regimes sweeping across the Arab world, which has been the planet’s greatest bastion of authoritarianism. From Tunis to Egypt, Yemen and Jordan, young people came out on the streets to protest against generations of oppression.

The situation in Egypt especially came to a boiling point. Like all dictators, Hosni Mubarak, who had been ruling his country unchallenged for over 30 years, was not ready to step down. In 2011, millions of Egyptians came out in the streets calling for Mubarak’s ouster. They were seen waving the Tunisian flag and chanting the most famous line of Tunisian poetry: “When the people decide to live their own lives, destiny will obey and chains will be broken.” After more than six and half decade’s dictatorship in their country, the Egyptian people had, indeed, decided to live their own lives. Destiny obeyed them and their chains were broken.

They ousted Mubarak, and opted to choose their President by ballot, not bullet. They elected Mohamed Morsi as their President in June 2012. But the crisis of leadership in Egypt continued even after Morsi’s election. His government inherited a dysfunctional, corrupt state, but could not transcend its authoritarian instincts and lost the ability to deal with multiplying crises. Morsi’s opponents blamed him of becoming increasingly authoritarian. His popular ratings kept plummeting as his government failed to put the country in order or revive its economy. Morsi accused remnants of the Mubarak regime, including businesspeople and officials in the courts and security forces, of sabotaging his government.

But the state was really falling apart. Foreign reserves plummeted, the inflation rate soared, tourism dwindled, power outages spread, gas lines grew and poverty deepened. The Muslim Brotherhood once respected as the most potent opposition to Mubarak's police state, and known for its services to the poor and, with education and medical programmes bridging the failings of the state in the provinces, had never governed. The worsening law and order situation and resultant chaos in the country drove away tourists as well as investors bringing the economy to a point of collapse.

The military grew restless as protests and riots spread, further threatening the economy and even the shipping lanes of the Suez Canal. The Egyptian military has dominated the country for over six decades and also took direct power for a year and a half after Mubarak's removal in 2011. In perhaps, the most brazen move of his tenure, Morsi, with the help of younger officers, purged the military of top commanders loyal to Mubarak, including Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi. Morsi then placated the army by granting it wide autonomy in the new constitution and promising not to interfere with the parallel business empire the military brass had created for itself. The move gave Morsi a narrow space to build a new relationship with the officers, notably his new armed forces Chief of Staff, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. But it never worked. Finally, the military moved and ousted him in what most Egyptians hailed as second revolution in two years.

The Egyptian people stood divided. A large number of them welcomed the military’s action that they were expecting for the last several weeks and months as a ‘corrective’ necessity. Their complaints ranged from concerns about the Muslim Brotherhood's Islamic agenda being brought to bear on the nation's laws, to frustration with his government's failures in addressing serious issues of economy, energy, unemployment, inflation and worsening law and order situation. They welcomed the change as a move that according to them will correct the path of the revolution that drove Mubarak from office in 2011.

Morsi’s supporters, on the other hand, insisted this was a choreographed military coup, cleverly wrapped up as a popularly-supported democratic act. The ‘battle’ between the two sides on whether this was a coup or not has now turned into a violent standoff with the risk of destabilising the country’s politics as well as economy. Meanwhile, the country's constitution has been suspended, and Adly Mansour, head of the country's Supreme Constitutional Court, is functioning as Egypt's interim President. According to General al-Sisi, fresh parliamentary elections will be held and President Mansour will have the powers to issue constitutional decrees in the meantime.

The envisaged roadmap announced by the military guarantees achieving the principal demand of the Egyptian people - having early presidential elections through an interim period in which the constitution will be amended. Egypt thus goes back to square one and will have to start afresh the whole process of remaking a “post-dictatorship democratic constitution” that guarantees the fundamental freedoms of the Egyptian people and brings stability to their country. Despite the misguided and engineered public euphoria in Tahrir Square, the military coup in Egypt is democracy’s reversal in an important Muslim country where the West has its own stakes and its own interests.

The Egyptian youth, in particular, faces myriad socio-economic challenges in the current political uncertainty. The emerging culture of protest and rejection in its ranks is not a good development. If anything, it is a setback to the very prospect of nascent democracy not only in Egypt, but also in other Arab countries. One hopes the Egyptians understand what they have done to themselves. Their future lies in being their own masters. They should be changing their regimes by ballot not by force or show of mob strength. After 60 years of dictatorship, the fruits of democracy will not appear overnight. Governance is not a switch-on-switch-off process. Democracy will take time to flourish. Egyptians need to be patient. They should learn lessons from us.

For the West, Egypt has been an important partner in its ongoing Middle East peace process. Muslim Brotherhood’s victory in Egypt’s elections last year was a surprise that it never expected to happen in the Arab Spring, which it hoped will bring a fresh batch of pliant rulers in place of those who had outlived their utility. In an uncharted global wilderness after the Second World War, the US took upon itself the responsibility of reshaping the new world order. Today, it controls the destiny and oil resources of almost all countries in the Arab peninsula where it has secured a large military footprint. No wonder, any trouble in the Arab street was a cause for serious concern in Washington. Morsi’s election thus was seen a challenge to the order it had over the decades so assiduously built in the region. They could not afford a Libyan repeat in Egypt and must now be relieved at the new opening for a preferred regime change in Cairo.

How things shape up in the coming weeks and months will determine not only the future of Egypt, but perhaps also that of the rest of the Arab world. But let there be no comparisons with Pakistan where despite systemic aberrations, democracy now has its roots deeply well-entrenched.

The writer is a former foreign secretary.