It is an understatement to say that although deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi is a highly intelligent professor of engineering, politically he was a very slow learner. Since his election a little more than a year ago with a bare majority of 51.7 per cent, Egypt's first freely elected president has been advised repeatedly to govern inclusively, that no matter his ambition, he should not attempt to force an Islamic agenda on a newly secularized state. But he didn't listen, or take to heart the obvious subsequent lessons to be learned from the mass protests that followed his repeated efforts to set Egypt on an Islamist path and give himself autocratic powers in defiance of the democratic impulses that led to the overthrow of dictator Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
It was only hours before a deadline set by the Egyptian armed forces with a warning that he create a more open government, or be removed, that Mr. Morsi finally declared he would. But that declaration, if he even meant it sincerely, came a year too late, and with millions protesting in the streets, scores of protesters dead, a weak economy in shambles, and the very real prospect of civil war at hand.
It's a classic tragedy, of course. Mr. Morsi had credentials and the opportunity to realize the potential of Egyptian revolution. Instead, he has been deposed by a military coup, however soft it may prove to be. It is a huge setback for Egyptians, whose democracy has now been reduced to mob rule enforced by military might.
In recent days, Mr. Morsi declared he was prepared to die rather than relinquish the legitimacy of his election. That in principle was a courageous declaration to be sure. But Mr. Morsi should realize his greatest opportunity is not to incite violence, his great opportunity at the moment is to prevent it, to use his moral authority to prevent his followers from turning to extremism that will only fuel more bloodshed and the potential of a vicious cycle of escalating division and violence.
The military has indicated that while it will prevent Mr. Morsi and other members of his government from leaving Egypt, it is suspending the controversial constitution Mr. Morsi designed and it is creating an interim government, its primary focus is on restoring stability.
Mr. Morsi should make that his priority, too. Democracy in Egypt and Mr. Morsi have been set back. That doesn't mean they can't return stronger, and smarter.