Sunday, January 30, 2011

Egyptian Uncertainties

Today, Husni Mubarak met with the military:
"President Hosni Mubarak, clinging to power despite unprecedented demands for an end to his 30-year rule, met on Sunday with the powerful military which is widely seen as holding the key to Egypt's future.

"Mubarak held talks with Vice President Omar Suleiman, whose appointment on Saturday has possibly set the scene for a transition in power, Defense Minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Chief of Staff Sami al-Anan and other senior commanders...

"In surreal scenes, soldiers from Mubarak's army stood by tanks covered in anti-Mubarak graffiti: 'Down with Mubarak. Down with the despot. Down with the traitor. Pharaoh out of Egypt.'

"Asked how they could let protesters scrawl anti-Mubarak slogans on their vehicles, one soldier said: 'These are written by the people, it's the views of the people.'

"Egypt's sprawling armed forces -- the world's 10th biggest and more than 468,000-strong -- have been at the heart of power since army officers staged the 1952 overthrow of the king. It benefits from about $1.3 billion a year in U.S. military aid."

Opposition leaders led by Muhammad el-Baradei have also expressed a desire to negotiate with the military. What is happening within it? Publicly they have sided with the demonstrators, using force mainly to try and bring order by rounding up looters, as just reported a few seconds ago by al-Jazeera English from Alexandria. They may be hoping that if their credibility increases, they can work a transition to the military-friendly Omar Suleiman rather than risk the unknowns of a non-NDP government following a successful revolution.

At the same time, regime moves bear scrutiny. The curfew, widely ignored, has been extended, and police are expected to return to the streets. I believe that the withdrawal of the police was part of a broader plan to defuse the protests through generalized instability, a plan which failed. It also seems like the police are still supporting the NDP, especially away from the Cairo/Alexandria/Suez trio that has dominated television coverage. Will the police crack down again, as the cameras fade away with the press crackdown?

I don't think we are out of the woods yet on possible repression. One possible scenario is an attempt by various security services to manage some sort of transition to Suleiman. The overwhelming majority of protesters will not accept this. On the other hand, maybe the military is trying to maintain its command structure by not risking a revolt of foot soldiers and the lower officer corps if they give protest suppression orders which are not followed. An assumption could also be that they could be a power in any new regime that is formed, simply by threatening a coup.

This is far from over.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)



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