EGYPT ON THE BRINK?
"Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak remains the lifeblood of the demonstrators, who still number in the tens of thousands in downtown Cairo and in other major cities, albeit on a lesser scale. After being overwhelmed in the Jan. 28 Day of Rage protests, Egypt’s internal security forces — with the anti-riot paramilitaries of the Central Security Forces (CSF) at the forefront — were glaringly absent from the streets Jan. 29. They were replaced with rows of tanks and armored personnel carriers carrying regular army soldiers. Unlike their CSF counterparts, the demonstrators demanding Mubarak’s exit from the political scene largely welcomed the soldiers. Despite Mubarak’s refusal to step down Jan. 28, the public’s positive perception of the military, seen as the only real gateway to a post-Mubarak Egypt, remained. It is unclear how long this perception will hold, especially as Egyptians are growing frustrated with the rising level of insecurity in the country and the army’s limits in patrolling the streets.
There is more to these demonstrations than meets the eye. The media will focus on the concept of reformers staging a revolution in the name of democracy and human rights. These may well have brought numerous demonstrators into the streets, but revolutions, including this one, are made up of many more actors than the liberal voices on Facebook and Twitter.
After three decades of Mubarak rule, a window of opportunity has opened for various political forces — from the moderate to the extreme — that preferred to keep the spotlight on the liberal face of the demonstrations while they maneuver from behind. As the Iranian Revolution of 1979 taught, the ideology and composition of protesters can wind up having very little to do with the political forces that end up in power. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (MB) understands well the concerns the United States, Israel and others share over a political vacuum in Cairo being filled by Islamists. The MB so far is proceeding cautiously, taking care to help sustain the demonstrations by relying on the MB’s well-established social services to provide food and aid to the protesters. It simultaneously is calling for elections that would politically enable the MB. With Egypt in a state of crisis and the armed forces stepping in to manage that crisis, however, elections are nowhere near assured. What is now in question is what groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and others are considering should they fear that their historic opportunity could be slipping.
One thing that has become clear in the past several hours is a trend that STRATFOR has been following for some time in Egypt, namely, the military’s growing clout in the political affairs of the state. Former air force chief and outgoing civil aviation minister Ahmed Shafiq, who worked under Mubarak’s command in the air force (the most privileged military branch in Egypt), has been appointed prime minister and tasked with forming the new government. Outgoing Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman, who has long stood by Mubarak, is now vice president, a spot that has been vacant for the past 30 years. Meanwhile, Defense Minister Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi (who oversees the Republican Guard) and Egypt’s chief of staff of the armed forces, Lt. Gen. Sami Annan — who returned to Cairo Jan. 29 after a week of intense discussions with senior U.S. officials — are likely managing the political process behind the scenes. More political shuffles are expected, and the military appears willing for now to give Mubarak the time to arrange his political exit. Until Mubarak finally does leave, the unrest in the streets is unlikely to subside, raising the question of just how much more delay from Mubarak the armed forces will tolerate".
"The Egyptian Unrest: A Special Report," 29 January 2011, in www.stratfor.com.
With the very conspicuous withdrawal of the police and Interior Ministry troops from the streets of Cairo and other large cities on Saturday, it is difficult to avoid the impression that either the regime (not merely Mubarak, but the entire 'deep state' military-economic apparatus which has existed since the mid-1970's): i) does not know what to do next, and are merely in a sauve qui peut mode after the sacking by Mubarak of his entire Cabinet and the naming of Intelligence chief Suleiman as Vice-President and hence as most likely interim-successor. Hoping against hope that this will suffice to calm the situation down; ii) has deliberately withdrawn the police and para-military from the streets as preparatory to a very bloody 'clearance' operation of the streets by the army initially and then by the police / Interior Ministry troops. The point being that with the looting and growing chaos in the streets in the country, as well as possible food shortages and economic breakdown possible, the population will be more tolerant / welcome the assertion of order, however bloody it will be. In short creating a pire ca va, mieux ca est, situation prior to using force ; iii) another possibility is that the withdrawal of the police, et. al., and the strangely unemployed army troops on the streets is a sign that the regime's nerve has collapsed, and its entire edifice will collapse within as little as twenty-four to forty-eight hours. My own surmise for what it is worth is that the most plausible scenarios are 'i' and 'iii'. And that unlike Stratfor, I can well see that if Mubarak remains in power by say the end of the upcoming week, he will have ridden out the storm and will no doubt retire in later on in the year. With General Suleiman as his immediate successor. It also seems clear that the shakeup going on, and the initial changes announced in the new Cabinet, that the Army will be taking a much more overt role in the governing of the country. And that the neo-liberal / grande bourgeois / cosmopolitan / modernizing elements in the regime, who had loosely grouped themselves under Mubarak fils, have almost completely lost out. And that one can foresee that in the future, even an Egypt controlled by the Army will be much more assertive playing to the 'gallery', AKA to the Egypt public opinion (whatever that may mean in a nation where thirty percent of the population is illiterate...), in terms of Egypt's 'Arab Role'. Which means in turn that any repetition of 'Operation Cast Lead', where Egypt quietly remains on the sidelines is impossible. Same with any repetition of the Lebanon War of 2006. Egyptian-American relations will also cool, either considerably or to some extent, so that the relationship which has built-up in the thirty-six years six the Yom Kippur War will for all intents and purposes be at an end.