WASHINGTON, Dec. 19 (UPI) -- The only democracy Egypt has known in 5,000 years of recorded history lasted six years -- from 1946, when the World War II British protectorate came to an end, until 1952 when Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser and his Free Officers movement dethroned and exiled King Farouk.
Nasser's coup was inspired by Egypt's defeat in the first Arab-Israeli war of 1948. No more than 100 colonels, majors and captains were involved, including Anwar Sadat, who succeeded Nasser upon his death in 1970.
Officially, Nasser and his Free Officers said they had taken over to wipe out corruption among their generals who, they charged, had led Egypt to its first defeat by Israel in 1948.
Several more humiliating defeats were to come but Nasser had the knack for metamorphosing defeats into victories.
Nasser later admitted, albeit off the record, that the main target of his coup was the Brotherhood of Muslim extremists. The previous Jan. 25, the Brotherhood dispatched its jeep-borne pyromaniacs all over Cairo on both banks of the Nile. They had a list of some 300 objectives to be torched, including the old Shepherd's Hotel and the Turf Club, where King Farouk played cards occasionally.
At the Air France building, the manager spotted two men stopped in an open jeep consulting a map and checking the street name. He ran out to meet them and asked how much they had been paid to set fire to his building. Ten (Egyptian) pounds, they answered. He gave them 20 each to leave his building alone and move on.
Air France's building was the only target spared that day. This correspondent returned to the Shepherd's in the evening for a shower and a change of clothes but the hotel was gone, a smoking hulk. The manager spotted me on the street and said that "His Majesty wants to see members of the press who lost everything in the hotel fire."
By the time we made it to the royal palace, King Farouk had retired for the night. And the correspondents who had been staying at Shepherd's received 50 Egyptian pounds, enough for a clean shirt and toiletries.
Seven months later, after a military honor guard presented arms and a band played the Egyptian national anthem, the royal yacht with the deposed Farouk aboard set sail for Monte Carlo. The new Nasser-led junta asked a prominent civilian to form a government.
Communists and those who sympathized with the Soviet Union were shunted aside. British-owned land was nationalized and the United States, for the time being, was in good odor.
The monarchy, with King Farouk's infant son now on the mythical throne as King Fuad II, gave the Free Officers respectability while they consolidated their power.
Land owned by Jews, Greeks and Copts was also seized and redistributed among the Free Officers of the junta and those who supported them.
The honeymoon lasted less than six months when the Revolutionary Command Council banned all political parties, put itself in charge of everything and abolished the monarchy.
Shut out of everything, the Muslim Brotherhood began organizing a noisy comeback in June 1953, with street riots and arson. Clashes with police followed for the rest of the year.
In January 1954, Nasser's junta outlawed the Brotherhood -- where it remained for 58 years until the Egyptian Revolution of 2011.
Nasser assumed mythical status throughout the Arab world when he nationalized the Suez Canal in 1956 and outmaneuvered Israel, Britain and France who said the Egyptians couldn't operate the waterway.
But Britain, France and Israel joined forces to take the canal back from Nasser. The Egyptian dictator then ordered 40 ships sunk up and down the length of the 101-mile canal.
Meanwhile, Soviet troops had already invaded Hungary to put down the anti-Communist revolution. U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower, angry with London and Paris that hadn't consulted him on the invasion of Egypt, gave the Anglo-French-Israeli alliance an order to pull back.
Propaganda-wise, the invasion of Hungary by the U.S.S.R. and the invasion of Suez by Western powers canceled each other out.
Paris and London complied but Israel lingered near the canal a few more months. In 1967, an emboldened Nasser expelled U.N. peacekeepers in Sinai where they had been stationed since the 1956 Suez conflict. He also ordered a blockade of Israel's access to the Red Sea.
For Israel, this was a casus belli. A month later, Israel launched a surprise attack against Egypt, destroying in less than 30 minutes most of its air force on the ground, while at the same time taking on and defeating Syria and Jordan in less than six days.
Jordan thus lost Arab East Jerusalem, then officially annexed to Israel.
This thumbnail sketch barely scratches the surface of the Arab kaleidoscope of wars, revolutions, coups and assassinations.
Syria sustained 21 coups between the end of the French mandate in 1945 and 1970, when air force chief Hafez al Assad seized power and stayed there until he died of a heart attack in 2000. In 1982, he suppressed an uprising by the Muslim Brotherhood, but not before killing 25,000 in four days in Hama.
Assad was succeeded by his shy, self-effacing son Bashar Assad, who had been studying ophthalmology in London. This chip off the old block, so far, has killed twice as many as his father -- more than 40,000. But that's over an entire year -- and the rebellion he tried to suppress is now a full-fledged civil war. With no end in sight.
Will Egypt's new Pharaoh Mohamed Morsi use his dictatorial powers to turn his country of 80 million into the next Iran?
Anything is possible in the Middle East in particular and the Arab world in general.
What seems impossible as far as any crystal ball can see is the Israeli-occupied West Bank becoming an independent Palestinian state. Hamas' influence is spreading from Gaza to the West Bank. And its idea of a Western frontier is the Mediterranean.