Saturday, January 29, 2011

Holding the Line?

I get the impression that Egyptian army troops are being used to defend important locations, freeing the police to confront protesters. If so, it makes it less likely that the army will face a tough decision of whether to join or suppress the people. Defending important buildings or locations is a much more palatable mission even for troops who sympathize with the grievances of the people.

The people show no signs of backing down.

But the government shows no sign of breaking and running. Yes, the government is offering concessions that may lead to actual free-ish elections. But so far the government seems like it has not lost its nerve. The police, despite occasional reports of one joining with the protesters, still seem like they are confronting protesters on the streets.

It all depends on the security forces now, I think. Do the police continue to fight the protesters? Does the army continue to backstop the police by holding static positions, thus freeing up police for counter-demonstraton work?

If the protesters don't lose steam and start to drift away and go home, the pressures on the para-military security forces and army could build until some start to crack and desert or defect. Does that start dominos falling or do the remainder hold firm? Or the pressure of constant protests and riots could lead the rulers to order the security forces to use massive force, and then the question is whether the officers issue orders to shoot and whether the troops obey those orders.

If I had to guess, I'd say that the government will survive the current crisis but that the Mubarak clan is finished after this year. There are reports that Mubarak's family has fled Egypt. Whether any change will then lead to real democracy rather than another elite taking over to share the few goodies is another question altogether.

But then again, I have no real way to know. I'm just guessing.

UPDATE: Ah, a new vice president--named a key player by a VOA article I noted here--is named:

Mubarak named his intelligence chief and close confidant Omar Suleiman, state television reported. ...

Suleiman has been in charge of some of Egypt's most sensitive foreign policy issues, including the Palestinian-Israeli peace process and inter-Palestinian divisions.

He'd be more likely to keep the security forces' senior officers loyal. And perhaps the protesters would consider the departure of the Mubaraks to be enough to stand down and wait and see whether September elections look to be free enough.

UPDATE: The army views itself as more than a regime-protection outfit. It identifies with the people as well. So the Egyptian government would be wise to not use the army for more than passive protection of locations to hold the perimeter while the police do the ugly work of suppressing the protests.

UPDATE: A mission the army can perform:

The Egyptian army secured Cairo's famed antiquities museum early Saturday, protecting thousands of priceless artifacts, including the gold mask of King Tutankhamun, from looters.

This is defending Egypt's heritage rather than the government yet also limits the extent of protester violence. This helps the government yet doesn't stress the loyalty of the army.