Thursday, 10 February 2011

Egypt's future heavily dependent on the army

As the protests enter their third week, the protagonists seem emboldened rather than cowed by their success. Yet some elements remain constant. The regime seems to have grasped that they have misjudged the scale of the movement but have not the flexibility of approach that can either engage with the protestors or defuse the situation.

On the other side, the protest movement seems to be as incoherent as before; perhaps more so. What began as a movement that encompassed mainly the better-educated young professionals is now absorbing all sorts of other groups that have a grievance, including many workers wanting for higher pay.

Three possible outcomes can be envisaged:

> The first is that the regime and the protest movement reach some form of compromise. This would be a first, given the very limited experience in the Arab world of sharing power. Assuming that a presidential system of government were maintained, it would also mean choosing a candidate acceptable to both sides, which would be an immense challenge.

>The second is that the regime makes reforms sufficient to defuse the protests by co-opting some, at least, of the protestors. At present, this looks highly unlikely. The regime up until now has been making concessions that appear to those still protesting as too little, too late.

> The third option would be for the regime, or elements within it, to mount a coup and seek to suppress the protests by force. It is questionable whether the regime has the forces to impose itself in such a way, now that the genie is out of the bottle.

It is too early to see how it will play out. Fears of chaos and collapse have so far proved premature. But Egypt is facing a very uncertain time. Much depends as always on the role of the army. There are reports that it is increasingly siding with the people. And there are also reports that it has been behind many of the detentions of protestors. Is it sitting on the fence or having a foot in both camps?

For more news and expert analysis about Egypt, please see Egypt Politics & Security.

© 2010 Menas Associates

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