It goes something like this: over the next two days, Egyptians will elect the former head of the military, Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, as Egypt's new president. His sole challenger, Hamdeen Sabahi, may do a little better than expected, perhaps denying Sisi his landslide. But by hook or by crook, Sisi will win.

Sisi's supporters, both inside and outside Egypt, will proclaim the new president's democratic legitimacy. They will conveniently ignore parallels between Sisi and his predecessor, Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, ousted in last July's coup; especially the one about how even democratically elected leaders can act in fundamentally undemocratic ways.

They will justify the widespread crackdown on dissent — both Islamist and non-Islamist — since July last year as a necessary evil to protect Egypt from an Islamist dictatorship. They will somehow explain that a religiously-conservative former general is a much safer custodian of Egypt's transition to a more open, more free and more democratic society than a religiously-conservative apparatchik of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Indeed, they will tell us, as former UK prime minister Tony Blair did a few weeks ago, that we have a choice. Choose Sisi and the military and the remnants of the old regime, as distasteful as this might be, or choose the Islamists, who are more distasteful and whose commitment to democracy is limited to 'one man, one vote, one time'.

Western governments, weary of dealing with a confusing array of new actors and new assumptions in the Middle East in recent years, may even succumb to the reassuringly familiar certainties that such a choice provides. Sisi may be no democrat, but he at least offers the virtue of 'one man, one phone call, one time'.

But anyone who believes that this is the choice today in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East is wrong. It is a false choice. The military and the Islamists are not on opposite sides of this choice, they are on the same side.

They were certainly on the same side after the 2011 uprising against former president Hosni Mubarak. Whether by formal agreement or by a nod and a wink, the military and the Brotherhood colluded to protect each other's interests — right up until the moment in July last year when those interests collided.

The Brotherhood made sure, for example, that changes to Egypt's new constitution protected the rights and privileges of the military. And while not everyone in the military had great love for the Brotherhood, the generals tolerated its assent to power in the hope that Egypt's biggest political and social movement would run the country day-to-day, bringing stability and allowing the military to remain in its barracks, factories and farms.

Some military officers even benefited from the Brotherhood's ascendancy. Sisi (who distinguished himself during the uprising by defending the virginity test conducted on female protesters by military intelligence officers) was himself elevated to supreme command by former president Morsi.

It was only when thousands took to the streets to protest Morsi's misrule that the military moved against its erstwhile collaborator. The same military that released Muhammed al-Zawahiri, the brother of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, now condemned the Muslim Brotherhood as terrorists.

But what the military feared last July, what the remnants of the old regime fear, and what the economic elites who benefit from the old system fear, is not the Brotherhood. It is change which they fear, and those who really represent it.

Behind the façade of a 'war on terror', the military has banned not just the Brotherhood, but the April 6 movement that was at the forefront of the 2011 uprising. It has cracked down on the free media and the right to protest. Through its repression it has forced many young activists either into jail, into the hands of radicals or out of politics altogether.

In fact, the disillusionment with politics spurred by the crackdown is more pernicious than the radicalisation caused by it. It is precisely these people, who have left politics because there is little space for peaceful activism and who draw a line at violent activism, who should be in politics. But only if you are interested in a new, more pluralist, more modern, less xenophobic, less polarised Egypt.

But that is not what the military and its backers want. They do not want the empowerment of these new, young and often secular actors who overthrew Mubarak even while veteran opposition movements like the Brotherhood were still preparing to negotiate with him. They do not want these activists who saw Mubarak's ouster as the first step in Egypt's revolution, not its last, and who want a thoroughgoing political, economic and social revolution that attacks the privileges of all those who still benefit from the old order. More than anything, the military and its backers do not want activists who are impossible to caricature as long-bearded religious zealots and terrorists.

These are the real choices in Egypt today: between true autocrats and true democrats; between those who want serious change and those willing to contemplate it only at the margins. When Egyptians go to the polls they can only choose between Sisi and Sabahi. But the real choice is between the old Egypt and a new one. The great shame is that in today's election, the new Egypt has not been allowed to run.