CAIRO — While the West frets over the Egyptian military’s seizure of power and condemns the violent suppression of protesters, the response within Egypt is more ambiguous. Many of the nation's intellectuals see those actions not as an attack on democracy, but as the best chance to save it. Others are not so sure.
After several days of massive protests against the elected president, Mohamed Morsi, the military removed him on July 3 in what is widely seen as a coup d’etat. But not everyone in Egypt calls it that way.
“Here in Egypt we don't call it a coup,” said professor Saad Eddin Ibrahim, an award-winning Egyptian fighter for democracy and a supporter of the revolution two-and-a-half years ago against Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak imprisoned him three times.
"This is more commonly a term used by the Muslim Brothers and by Western media," said Ibrahim.
Rania al-Malky, a liberal Egyptian commentator and online newspaper publisher, sees it differently.
"First, I just want to call things by their names. This was a military coup," she insisted.
But that is a minority view among Egyptian intellectuals.
"The military did the only thing they could. It is the people who really went up in arms and it was the army that was trying to catch up with them - the unprecedented number of people who took onto the streets, 30 million," Ibrahim pointed out.
Again, al-Malky differed.
"There's this big illusion that 30 million people came out on June 30, and that's a huge, huge, huge illusion. It's a big, big lie. And it was orchestrated by the army," said she.
Al-Malky acknowledges there were several million anti-Morsi protesters, but she says they wanted early elections, not a military takeover.
So, was the military rescuing the country from a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government with an unpopular Islamist agenda? Or did the generals use the protesters to legitimize a power grab?
Both sides answer in stark terms.
"The one single demand was to combat terrorism. And the Muslim Brothers were labeled as a source of the rising terrorism in the country," said Ibrahim.
"This is the biggest joke. You can't vilify what you don't like. You can't turn your political enemy into a terrorist so you can get rid of them," argued al-Malky.
But that’s exactly what the military and its supporters are doing - claiming “terrorism” to justify the takeover and the killing of hundreds of protesters.
Rania al-Malky draws some grim conclusions.
"If this is not a loss of moral compass, I just don't know what would be. Of course, the Arab Spring is over as far as Egypt is concerned. It's all going to be back to square one. It's going to be the sham democracy, so-called democracy, we had under Mubarak." Said al-Malky.
Saad Eddin Ibrahim sees the danger but believes Egypt has a new protection against it.
"The whole country is mobilized now. And therefore no tyranny could hope to emerge or prevail in this country," he said.
That is the gamble Egypt has taken, with intelligent people insisting either that it is a sure thing or a losing proposition.