The bloodbath on Egypt's streets is not just a humanitarian tragedy. If it continues unchecked, it may complete an arc of instability which already runs from Iraq through Syria and Lebanon, stretching as far as Libya.
Yet such a doomsday scenario is still preventable through the inner strengths of Egypt's own society. Meanwhile, just about the worst thing foreign governments can do is to resort to what United States President Barack Obama once dismissed as "the satisfying purity of indignation", the temptation to act out of frustration by punishing Egypt's military rulers just to satisfy the West's guilty conscience rather than help the Arab world's biggest nation.
Today's Egypt cannot be seen in binary terms, as some clear-cut confrontation between forces of "good" and "evil". For there are few angels in such situations and all protagonists bear responsibility for the political deadlock, the subsequent violence and the shocking death toll.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the movement which only two years ago was Egypt's most popular political force as well as an inspiration throughout the Middle East, proved itself a total, unmitigated failure in government. Instead of forging a broad political coalition which would have helped it share responsibility for the tough decisions that had to be taken, the Brotherhood avoided those decisions and alienated everyone. Paradoxically, it tried to suck up to the Egyptian military, the institution which had no interest in reaching any accommodation with Islamists.
The Brotherhood waited 70 years to gain power but then lost it in just a year, not so much because the movement's leaders lacked government experience but because they made the wrong policy choices. Incompetence is treatable; stupidity is often incurable.
But the urban middle classes and many of Egypt's educated youth who poured into the streets to welcome the coup were also wrong to believe that the military was capable of restoring stability by partially reinstating the old order while still allowing a new one to be created.
That was always a pipedream. General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and his colleagues may have no interest in staying in power for long, but they are determined to retain influence and crush the Brotherhood for at least another generation. Violence and bloodshed are not just by-products of this agenda - they are its critical ingredients.