Omar Suleiman was the Vice President of Egypt during Hosni Mubarak's final days in office. Although he only served for less than a couple of weeks in this capacity, Soliman was a crucial figure during this period, not least for the interview he granted Christian Amanpour, during which he made the famous statement that Egypt and Egyptians were not yet ready for democracy.
Suleiman specifically cited the threat posed by the Muslim Brotherhood, an organisation that had existed in Egypt for more than 80 years with the intent of turning the country into an Islamic State with Sharia as its main laws and constitution.
Suleiman may have been proven right after all. It is now almost three years since the removal of Mubarak and Egypt is still mired in the problems that arose from the Islamists' rise to power and their attempt to take over all state institutions and to change the character of the country.
Following the removal of the Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, the country again is once again paralysed by his upcoming trial and its repercussions on the current fragile political process. At first glance, Egypt seems to have returned the same old pattern with the army controlling the country politically as well as running much of the economy.
Morsi served as president for only one year after a disputed election victory in June 2012. He earned the votes of around 11 million Egyptians, edging out his opponent by a margin of only 2%. He ran against Ahmed Shafik, Mubarak's last serving prime minister, a somewhat hated figure who still managed to get 49% of the vote. Much of the support for Morsi was actually a protest vote against Shafik as the man of the former regime.
Morsi's greatest mistake was not to recognise early on the fragility of his support. In fact, within a few days of his inauguration, Morsi began to govern as if he was given a mandate by the Egyptian public. Using a play book strategy from Mubarak's era, Morsi appointed his cronies, mainly members of the Muslim Brotherhood whom he publicly and proudly called "my family and my tribe" to the most important government posts including all the important cabinet ministries, except that of defence.
He and his Muslim Brotherhood organisation, represented by his misnomeric Freedom and Justice Party, started their rapid Islamisation project which was meant not only to change the character of Egypt but also to engage in the larger project of creating a pan-Islamic State to unite many countries in the Middle East.
Morsi is now being charged, along with several others, with the killing of protesters and other crimes during the events that took place last December when hundreds of people calling for new elections were demonstrating around the presidential palace. At the time, a committee dominated by Islamists was drafting a new Islamic constitution in defiance of a preliminary ruling by the Egyptian Supreme Constitutional Court, which questioned the legitimacy of the drafting committee.
On the day that the judges were to meet and announce their final ruling, a mob of fundamentalists fanatics mainly from the Brotherhood and the ultraorthodox Salafies, surrounded the court and prevented its judges from meeting. Morsi never intervened to stop the mob, and to the contrary ordered the security forces to stay away.
When lower courts issued similar rulings against Morsi's other actions, he not only refused to implement them but also went a step further by issuing a presidential decree, declaring thast he was effectively exempt from judicial questioning. None of Egypt's previous presidents over the past 60 years had dared take so blatant a decision. This may have been the final straw that broke the camel's back and ignited the second Egyptian revolution in 30 months.
For this reason, many analysts found it difficult to call what happened between 30 June and 3 Julya military coup. Many estimates suggest that the number of demonstrators demanding Morsi's removal in July was twice as many as had voted for him a year ealier. And many of the July protesters were from the younger and older demographics, who had initially supported Morsi but become disillusioned with his role.
When Morsi refused demonstrators' demands for early elections, the military removed him, installed a civilian cabinet of technocrats to govern the country, and appointed the chief judge of the Supreme Constitutional Court as acting president. Many Egyptians today insist that what happened in those three days was in fact the real revolution, and that what happened in February 2011 was the de facto military coup. They argue that the military removed Mubarak, installed itself as the guardian of the country and ruled with impunity for 16 months.
Today and in a manner whose symbolism will not be lost on most Egyptians, Morsi is being tried in the same chamber that hosted Mubarak's case two years earlier. Morsi and Mubarak may be very different men. However, that they ended up in the same court house being accused of identical charges should come as no surprise. Both men were autocrats who surrounded themselves with cronies and allowed levels of government corruption to benefit them. Both men never really believed in democracy or practised it during their rule. And both men had no sense of how intensely hated they were by large segments of the population.
But the difference between the two men has already become obvious during their arrest and court hearings. Mubarak, who had the opportunity to flee Egypt after the first uprising, refused to do so or allow any members of his family to escape to other countries which gladly offered them exile. Morsi, on the other hand, seemed to want to negotiate with the army in an attempt to leave the country.
In court, Mubarak was stoic and silent, only answering when called on by the judge. On the other hand, Morsi - who can claim a degree of legitimacy denied to Mubarak - was defiant and loud as he kept repeating the mantra about his own legitimacy and declaring that those who overthrew him are the ones who should be tried for treason. Morsi's trial is likely to produce great theatre, as was evident from his first appearance in court and the statement he released through his lawyers inciting his supporters to continue their jihad against the Egyptian army.
But aside from the theatrics, life in Egypt goes on, albeit with more instability. The Brotherhood and their supporters have yet to lay down their rhetoric and their arms and to accept the political reality; they refuse to acknowledge they that they are despised by many sectors of Egyptian society. There is a legitimate concern that the Islamist militants, including some Brotherhood members, will go underground again and wage a campaign against the government, state officials or even foreign tourists as they did in the eighties. That Egypt will become another Algeria is a scenario that even the most optimistic observer cannot dismiss.
On the positive side, however, and as part of the new military-backed "roadmap", a panel of judges has been appointed to identify problems with the Islamist constitution of 2012, and a committee of 50 individuals representing all sectors of Egyptian society is working on drafting a new constitution by the end of the year. Upon completion it will be the subject of a national referendum, with presidential and parliamentary elections soon to follow.
Some may argue that democracy is the casualty of the developments that occurred as a result of the military's removal of Morsi. Again they may be right, particularly because the military seems to be doing its best to stay in power and to at least maintain all its current unfair privileges and its control of many sectors of the Egyptian economy. In addition, a campaign to recruit the Army's chief of staff General El-Sisi to run for president is in full swing. Although it is mainly run by a coalition of army supporters and ultra-nationalists, it has the support of the elite, the business community, the Copts, and other key societal segments.
The only glue that seems to bond these groups together, however, is their hatred of the Brotherhood and what it has done to Egypt during its one year of rule. If El-Sisi does indeed run for president, then Egypt would return to being a country governed by military officers in civilian clothes as it was since 1952.
However, a final judgment on this supposed collapse of democracy in Egypt cannot be made until the full implementation of the road map. One can argue that the Egyptian masses that swept Morsi from power weree, in fact, practising their own form of direct or street democracy which is now challenging the electoral, representative democracy that we take for granted in the west.
The Egyptian people had had it with the incompetence of Morsi and his cronies, so they took matters into their own hands. Where they teaching the world a lesson in the new democracy of the 21st century? Or was Suleiman right in saying that they are not ready for democracy yet? Time will tell, and possibly soon.
Nezar AlSayyad is Professor and Chair of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.