TSG IntelBrief: Egypt – Checkmate?
February 10, 2011
Bottom Line Up Front
President Mubarak’s speech to the Egyptian people tonight revealed a regime disconnected from reality and trying hard to hang on to power. The decision by the newly-appointed Vice-President, Omar Suleiman, to support Mubarak, and not push for his immediate resignation, may prove to be a costly mistake for his leadership ambitions. As it stands, the real winners from recent events will be the army and the Egyptian people, and the real losers will be the National Democratic Party, the police and the security services, all of whom have been comprehensively outmaneuvred by the crowds in Tahrir Square.
The Pieces in Play
In Egypt we are seeing the final moves of what has been a complex chess game between on one side President Mubarak, his advisors and the old guard, on the other side the demonstrators in Tahrir Square; and – standing to one side of the chess board – the powerful Egyptian armed forces.
The old guard – led ironically by now VP Omar Suleiman – and drawn from the armed forces since the 1950s, came to resent the wealth and power acquired by President Mubarak, his son and their cronies, and forced Mubarak to include them in the government.
This therefore was an echo of the pattern evident in Egyptian history where the military dominated the government.
However, the government catastrophically misjudged popular feeling and the commitment of the demonstrators, who have been embattled and under siege for two and half weeks in Tahrir – Liberation – Square.
The Moves in the Chess Game
VP Suleiman earlier decided on the tactic of trying to pull the teeth of the demonstrators by turning their presence into a sit-in – more like a 1960s peace movement rally – rather than a hot-blooded passionate demonstration of popular unrest and deep anger.
But the demonstrations continued to grow, and their strategy is now to force the army to make a decision – as happened in Tunisia.
The question now is whether or not the army will behave like in Tunisia, or would they open fire to quell the uprising.
TSG sources have told us that tomorrow the crowd fully intend to go to key public buildings (our sources are saying they are targeting TV stations and the presidential palace) where they will continue their protests.
The regime only has realistically one night left in which to limit the demonstrations from intensifying and to prevent the crowd dominating the political agenda, rather than the government dominating the crowd. The sands of time are running out.
The moves in the endgame appear now to be becoming much clearer. The Egyptian Army Chief of Staff, General Sami Eman, announced a short time ago: “Tonight, it is ending”. He continued “All your demands will be met tonight. Allahu Akhbar!”
General Eman is thus siding with the people rather than VP Suleiman. Behind this decision is an act of political calculation. He has nothing to gain by siding with old regime and everything to lose if he allowed the army to suppress the protestors as happened in the 1990s in Algeria.
Weapons that stay silent speak loudly to the old guard – it is time to go. VP Suleiman will have to listen if he is to go on his own terms and not suffer the indignity of being removed from power by the army.
It is vitally important to remember that the army in Egypt holds the key to state stability, and they have now said they are ready to respond to the “legitimate demands of the people”.
The use of the word ‘legitimate’ is critical, as it conveys the explicit understanding that the crowd’s demand that President Mubarak stands down is legitimate. His hours are therefore numbered.
Furthermore, Egyptian State TV has been broadcasting a meeting of the Higher Military Council (HMC), stating that it is in a state of continuous session: “to protect the nation, its gains and the aspirations of the people.”
The HMC also said that “”the safety and security of the people were paramount”” implying that no harm will come to the protestors. The army seems finally to have taken sides with the demonstrators to force Mubarak to withdraw from the Presidency after 31 long years.
Therefore, based on the factors above, it is unlikely that the army will use force of arms to disperse the crowd – it never has previously – and would in fact be likely to protect them.
The credibility and reputation of the armed forces will be rigorously protected by their commanders who are not going to become involved in suppressing what they clearly endorse as a legitimate, popular movement for regime change.
Friday is thus a critical and symbolic day. It is the day when the army is likely to distance itself from the old, corrupt discredited regime, and to align itself with a popular movement that wishes for a more representative pluralistic democracy, thus sealing the fate of the old guard.
Either way, the end is near. The only question is whether tomorrow will be checkmate.
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