More on Egypt

As many as two million flood downtown Cairo

A couple of big developments. (I really would like to talk about the Healthcare ruling, too, but this is my very busy week at work. I just don’t have the time. Maybe I could get a partner to take call so that I can blog? Not a chance.)

From Informed Comment:

The Egyptian army made clear late Monday afternoon Cairo time that it would not repress peaceful demonstrations. A spokesman read out a statement on television: The military said it was fanning out through the streets to prevent looting and acts of sabotage. It said that the military recognized the legitimacy of the demands of the people and of the demonstrators who are asking for vast political and social adjustments. It said it would “never resort to the use of force against this great people.”


The newly appointed vice president, Omar Suleiman of military intelligence, offered to open negotiations with the demonstrators.

Some analysts are interpreting these statements as a two-pronged strategy. But I wonder if they do not point to a split in the security forces. Suleiman is from military intelligence, not the regular army. The new prime minister, Ahmad Shafiq, is an officer from the relatively elite and pampered air force (like Mubarak himself).

The statement about not using force on the people came from the regular army, which is made up of a combination of staff officers and thousands of conscripts. Army chief of staff Lt. Gen. Sami Anan (Enan) may have decided to preserve the unity of his branch of the armed forces, the closest to the people, by throwing the other three under the bus.

As a smart Pakistani analyst put it:

‘ The Egyptian theatre now has four key players — Lt Gen Sami Annan, Chief of Staff of the Egyptian Army, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, Defence Minister, Air Marshal Ahmed Shafiq, Minister for Civil Aviation [and now Prime Minister], and Lt Gen Omar Suleiman, the intelligence chief. Of the four, Lt Gen Annan commands 468,000 troops, Field Marshal Tantawi oversees 60,000 Republican Guards while Lt Gen Suleiman is rumoured to be ailing. ‘

Thus, Suleiman’s offer to negotiate is probably a way of trying to keep the newly appointed military cabinet in power, perhaps with an eye to new elections, by reaching out to and perhaps bringing in from the cold at least some of the opposition. Lt. Gen. Anan, in contrast, seems not to care very much whether the Mubarak crew stays in power or not, as long as the institution of the army is safeguarded and law and order can be preserved.

In a mass popular uprising of the sort now ongoing in Egypt, unity of the military and security forces, their backing for the ruler, and willingness to be ruthless, are key to a government remaining in power. This combination of factors was present in Iran in summer-fall, 2009. But the news out of Cairo late Monday and into Tuesday suggests deep divisions and diffidence in the military, which bodes ill for Mubarak.

Meanwhile, opposition leader Mohamed Elbaradei warned Mubarak that he had better flee if he values his life. He said that crowds were no longer simply calling for his resignation, but were beginning to call for him to be put on trial.

I watched some official Egyptian television. It is disgusting, with the same tone and snark of Fox Cable News (which is calling the peaceful demonstrators “rioters.”) The anchor actually defended the security police for shooting down dozens of people on Thursday and Friday. “What else could they do?” A call came in from someone ranting that it was all a Muslim Brotherhood plot. Another man insisted that a few people in the street did not represent the whole people. You get a sense of what the salon conversations of Marie Antoinette must have been like in 1789.