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Egypt: It’s All About the Army Now

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All this talk of “[insert term for revolution here] revolution” in Egypt is a tad premature, and seems to gloss over the apparently incongruous fact that the Army were welcomed into the streets by the protesters. Cheering when the troops get called out is hardly the stuff of the barricades.

The Egyptian moment is moving very, very fast, but it is starting to become increasingly clear that Mubarak’s future is in the hands of the Egyptian military, which is much revered in highly nationalistic Egypt (and in which every young man serves).

So with that in mind, let’s extrapolate what this could mean for Cairo.

Mubarak has a major problem. The moment he asks the Army to fire on the protesters is the moment he books his ticket out of Cairo. The Army’s own credibility and continued power rests on it NOT doing that. The protesters know this and with the brutal and hated police thoroughly routed, it looks like we’ve arrived at stage two of the game. The ball is in the Army’s court.

So what will the Military do? It’s unlikely they want to sacrifice Mubarak – who’s one of their own – and has plied them with plenty of goodies over the decades. But the longer the streets burn (and there’s plenty of unemployed youth to keep them that way) the closer it gets to the tipping point, of losing the public trust and undermining its own power and position.

That point may come soon. And if it does, the Military will have to make some serious decisions. Do they try to convince El-Baradei to lead a transition government, or co-opt an old Field Marshal to restore control? And how long will that transition last and to what? Will the choices the Military makes choke off the billions they get from the US Government?

And what about the Muslim Brotherhood? The powerful decades-old Islamist movement (which helped to spawn and has close ties with close ties to Al Qaeda) in this intensely religious country has wisely stayed behind the scenes. But is it poised to strike and take advantage of the weakness and turmoil facing its enemies? And if does, how will the military respond?

The idea that Egypt’s repressive police state is going to give way to a liberal democracy by next Tuesday is wishful thinking in the extreme. What’s more likely is that we’ll see major fissures developing, and a situation that’s more akin to the current state of Pakistan where Islamists battle a powerful army and toothless civilian army for control of a struggling economy.

Another worrying similarity with Pakistan could also emerge, where the Army – through it’s semi-rogue Intelligence agency surreptitiously supports the Taliban in order to keep it at bay. Could the Egyptians do the same thing in Gaza – opening the border – and plying Hamas with weapons in order to keep the Muslim Brotherhood from striking at the nation’s heart?

Finally, there’s the issue of peace with Israel. Mubarak earns billions by keeping it intact, but will the Military be able to maintain it in the face of an emboldened Islamist threat from within? Can they afford to recall their ambassador to Tel Aviv, and re-establish cold-war ‘hostilities’ with Israel?

To call the situation fascinating is an understatement. But one thing’s for sure, Egypt’s future remains in the hands of the guys with the guns. The question is what they do with them.

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Written by coolrebel

January 29, 2011 at 12:37 am

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