Thursday, February 10, 2011

Flash: Egypt: At Last The Army Moves

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By Barry Rubin

The Egyptian army has now spoken with a message telling demonstrators that "all" their demands are about to be met. But does this mean just the resignation of Mubarak, or much more? At the moment there is confusion.

There are two ways the army could imply that reference to "all" demands. Either it will:

--Reinterpret their demands more narrowly, believing that just getting rid of Mubarak will make people so happy as to split the opposition and let the regime survive, or

--Be prepared to dismantle the regime so the generals can cut a deal to preserve their own positions.

What I want to stress is that either this is a military coup or a military turnover of power after a transition power to an elected new regime. We'll have to watch the signals to see which it is. The key one is whether they will announce new, free elections for parliament or president soon or leave the dates vague.

So let's review the options:

A. Mubarak stays on. The army stays behind him and is ready to suppress disorders if necessary. He makes some reforms and concessions but does not give way.

B. Mubarak transfers power to a military council. The military gets rid of Mubarak, becomes the government, and tries to stay in power as the only force that can save the nation from anarchy (and perhaps, it might reason, a Muslim Brotherhood takeover eventually).

C. The military gets rid of Mubarak and the regime, really does meet all the demonstrators' demands, and believes that a new regime will leave the generals in their jobs and not bother the army's massive moneymaking machine. The generals reason that if things get to unstable under a new regime they could always intervene at that point.

Looks like its Option A.

When the general who announced that there would be a dramatic announcement said, "This ends tonight," that, too, was an ambiguous statement. He means that the upheaval that has shaken Egypt will end. But is that purely because the demonstrators will get everything they want or because the army will also force it to end?

Note: I will continue to edit this article to reflect events.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The GLORIA Center's site is http://www.gloria-center.org and of his blog, Rubin Reports, http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com.

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