On August 1, US Secretary of State John Kerry declared that Egypt's army was ''restoring democracy'' when it kidnapped the country's elected president Mohammed Mursi on July 3.
One can only imagine the guffaws of derision that greeted this statement in most of the Islamic world, not to mention China and Russia, from the self-appointed world champion of democracy promotion.
Derision will now turn to rage after Wednesday's carnage in which 280 protesters were massacred by the military. The West's failure to condemn the coup will be widely noted.
Egypt is a pivotal state. What happens inside its borders matters well outside it. Its Islamist revolution was peaceful. Power was captured by the Muslim Brotherhood through the ballot box. The anti-Islamists overturned the people's will with military backing to show democracy cannot be reconciled with political Islam even when peaceful.
The echoes of the violent counter-revolution will reverberate throughout the Arab and Islamic worlds.
In December 1991, Islamists won the first round of elections in Algeria and were poised to win the second round in early 1992, but were prevented from taking office and exercising power by the military which stepped in and hand-picked a ruler. With the generals banning Islamist parties, an underground militant insurgency took hold. For the rest of the 1990s Algeria was racked by a brutal civil war which claimed about 200,000 lives and whose appalling legacy still lives on in the memory of the people.
Egypt's coup bore most of the signature hallmarks: tanks in the streets, military helicopters circling above Tahrir Square, the military commandeering radio and TV stations, shutting down media outlets of the ousted regime,
announcing the coup on national TV by men in uniform against the backdrop of the country's flags, and the claim that the military had moved to defend the nation from internal enemies.
The chaos and confusion since Dr Mursi's ouster illustrate the common pathology that it is easier to mount the tiger of a coup than to get off it at a time and destination of one's choosing. Will the Muslim Brotherhood leaders be imprisoned or liquidated? Will they be prevented from contesting again? If not, what if they should win again?
The Mursi regime made many serious mistakes. It was not inclusive and seemed intent on governing only for supporters, giving no indication that the half of the country that did not vote for them was still a legitimate stakeholder in the post-Mubarak regime. Egypt's economy was in freefall. The result of the policy missteps and inept governance was that the Brotherhood was slowly but surely being discredited in the Muslim world.
Now they have been martyred and the cause of democracy, constitutionalism and the rule of law in the Arab world's most influential country has suffered a serious setback. Islamists had participated in the democratic process and won power. The secularists seem to be dominant among the urban middle class - the cohort that in Western democracies is often dismissed as the inner-city cultural elite that looks down on ''real'' Americans and Australians.
The proper and only method of removing a democratically elected president is through the ballot box or impeachment for criminal malfeasance (which has not been alleged). The coup cannot be interpreted as anything but undermining the prospects of consolidating democracy in Egypt.
A useful contrast is to think of the untidy, messy and non-linear progress made in the world's largest Islamic country, Indonesia, where, for all the unevenness of the progress, civilian democratic governance has been steadily consolidated since Suharto.
In Egypt instead, only one year has been marked by an elected president. Presidential elections were followed by parliamentary elections and a referendum on the constitution: the Islamists won all three. The transition to democracy has been interrupted, or aborted, by the generals, not safeguarded.
Washington is mandated by law to cut off US aid in response to a coup. Section 508 of the Foreign Assistance Act requires that aid must be terminated to any country ''whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup or decree,'' or by a coup ''in which the military plays a decisive role''. To avoid this mandatory straitjacket, the administration has baulked at calling Dr Mursi's ouster a coup. The $US1.3 billion ($1.4 billion) annual aid to Egypt is important to Cairo to keep Egypt's economy afloat and to Washington for maintaining close links with Egypt's military.
Washington has a history of ignoring inconvenient laws. For years it kept providing aid to Pakistan by turning a blind eye to its nuclear shenanigans. More recently the US led the charge to breach the non-proliferation treaty barriers to help India with its civil nuclear program while permitting it to keep nuclear bombs.
Muslims and Arabs might well ask: do Western governments have problems with democracy unless ''their'' side wins? ''Evil'' Iran is closer to an electoral democracy than Saudi Arabia. The West demonises Iran as a militant theocracy and lauds Saudi Arabia for its moderation despite the hefty financial underwriting of militants for decades. Palestinians were collectively punished for daring to elect Hamas to power in Gaza.
If the electoral route to political power is ruled out for Islamists, if their candidates are prevented from taking office or removed from it at gunpoint: can we confidently rule out that they will not go underground and intensify efforts to capture power by force?
Ramesh Thakur is a professor in the Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University.