As the army ruthlessly crushes the Muslim Brotherhood on the streets of Cairo, having swept away its elected president, Egypt is being painted as the graveyard of the Arab Spring and of Islamist hopes of shaping the region's future.
This week's bloody drama has sent shock waves out of Egypt, the political weather vane and cultural heart of the Arab world. The effect on the region of the army's power grab will not be uniform, because while countries such as Egypt are locked in a battle over identity, other states, from Syria to Yemen, and Libya to Iraq, are in an existential struggle for survival.
(Read more: Egypt stocks tumble 3.9 percent after bloodshed)
The Egyptian chapter of the Arab awakening began with the uprising that ended the 30-year dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak and has moved on to the spectacular implosion of the Brotherhood that replaced him. Having been outlawed intermittently since their founding 80 years ago, the organisation won parliamentary and presidential elections, then self-destructed in one year.
Deposed President Mohamed Mursi alienated all but a hard-core constituency by devoting his energy to seizing control of Egypt's institutions rather than implementing policies to revive its paralysed economy and heal political divisions, analysts say.
"I was surprised by the rapid fall of the Islamists," said Jamel Arfaoui, an analyst on Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring uprisings.
"I was expecting that the Muslim Brotherhood would continue long in power and benefit from the experience of the Islamists in Turkey," where the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party has won three straight elections.
The Egyptian Brothers, or Al-Ikhwan, now have reason to fear they could be back in the wilderness for decades after the army, with much bloodshed, imposed a state of emergency last week. The last time emergency rule was implemented - after the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981 - it remained in force for more than 30 years.
In power, Mursi and his backers in the Brotherhood proved unable to collaborate with either Islamist allies or secular adversaries and fatally alienated an army they first tried to co-opt. They have left the country more divided than at any time since it became a republic in 1953.
"They have no understanding whatsoever of the way democratic politics operates," says George Joffe, an expert on North Africa at Cambridge University. "It is difficult to imagine how anyone, given the opportunity of power, could in any circumstances have behaved as stupidly as they did. It is staggering incompetence."
The 2011 upheavals promoted Islamist groups affiliated with or similar to the Brotherhood to the heart of politics across the Arab world, and most observers say events in Egypt are not just a national but a regional setback for the organisation.
"The Brotherhood have committed political suicide. It will take them decades to recover ... because a significant number of Egyptians now mistrust them. Al-Ikhwan is a toxic brand now in Egypt and the region," said academic Fawaz Gerges, adding that the damage goes beyond Egypt to its affiliates in Tunisia, Jordan and Gaza, where the ruling Hamas evolved from the Brotherhood.
This has delighted leaders as distinct as King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, traditionally wary of rival flavours of Islam, and Bashar al-Assad, who greeted last month's military takeover in Egypt as vindication of his own bloody fight against Islamists.
Some say Egypt is a setback for democracy itself in the Arab world.
"It delegitimises the ballot box and legitimises in the eyes of Arabs that the army is the only institution we can fall back on to protect us against disintegration or Islamists who hijack the state," said Gerges of the London School of Economics.
Tarek Osman, author of "Egypt on the Brink", said Egypt represented a clash over whether these states are to be governed according to traditions of secular nationalism or see their rich, ancient identities squeezed into the Islamist strait-jacket of the Brotherhood.
It is "the Islamic frame of reference versus old, entrenched, rich national identities", he says: "This identity clash is a root cause for the antagonism that wide social segments have for the Islamists."
(Read more: Egypt's cabinet to debate fate of Muslim Brotherhood)