Only two days after cheering began in Egypt’s Tahrir Square following the resignation of Hosni Mubarak, it now appears that the celebrations of the Egyptian democratic revolutionary movement have begun to give way to the realization that while many low ranking soldiers in the Egyptian Army are likely sympathetic to the protesters, higher ranking Army officers are not only not on the side of the revolution but see it as a threat to their military junta.
This short clip from Reuters shows physical confrontations and shoving matches as the Army attempts using force to clear Tahrir Square of demonstrators.
“Egypt’s new military administration and the pro-democracy protesters who brought down Hosni Mubarak are at odds over the path to democratic rule”, notes Chris McGreal in a UK Guardian article: “The army sought to stave off pressure from jubilant protesters to swiftly hand power to a civilian-led administration by saying that it was committed to a ‘free democratic state’.
McGreal also notes, to the credit of the Egyptian protesters who are not giving up, that although “The military leadership gave no timetable for the political transition, and many of the demonstrators who filled Cairo’s Tahrir Square for 18 days rejected the military’s appeal to dismantle the barricades and go home.“
Robert Fisk writing at the UK Independent makes it clear once again that the Egyptian revolutionary movement has few if any good reasons to place any trust in the army leadership to want anything more than the retention of their power and privilege through the continuation of the status quo in the name of a “stability” that, as Pepe Escobar put it the other day “translates as a lousy quality of life for virtually the totality of Egyptians; democratic rights of local populations are always secondary to geostrategic considerations.”
So the Egyptian Revolution lay in the hands of the army last night as a series of contradictory statements from the military indicated that Egypt’s field marshals, generals and brigadiers were competing for power in the ruins of Mubarak’s regime. Israel, according to prominent Cairo military families, was trying to persuade Washington to promote their favourite Egyptian – former intelligence capo and Vice-President Omar Suleiman – to the presidency, while Field Marshal Tantawi, the defence minister, wanted his chief of staff, General Sami Anan, to run the country.
When Mubarak and his family were freighted off to Sharm el-Sheikh yesterday afternoon, it only confirmed the impression that his presence was more irrelevant than provocative. The hundreds of thousands of protesters in Tahrir Square sniffed the same decay of power and even Mohamed ElBaradei, former UN arms inspector and ambitious Nobel Prize-winner, announced that “Egypt will explode” and “must be saved by the army”.
Analysts talk about a “network” of generals within the regime, although it is more like a cobweb, a series of competing senior officers whose own personal wealth and jealously guarded privileges were earned by serving the regime whose 83-year old leader now appears as demented as he does senile. The health of the President and the activities of the millions of pro-democracy protesters across Egypt are thus now less important than the vicious infighting within the army.
Yet if they have discarded the rais – the President – the military’s high command are men of the old order. Indeed, most of the army’s highest-ranking officers were long ago sucked into the nexus of regime power. In Mubarak’s last government, the vice- president was a general, the prime minister was a general, the deputy prime minister was a general, the minister of defence was a general and the minister of interior was a general. Mubarak himself was commander of the air force. The army brought Nasser to power. They supported General Anwar Sadat. They supported General Mubarak. The army introduced dictatorship in 1952 and now the protesters believe it will become the agency of democracy. Some hope.
Thus – sadly – Egypt is the army and the army is Egypt. Or so, alas, it likes to think. It therefore wishes to control – or “protect”, as army communiqués constantly reiterate – the protesters demanding the final departure of Mubarak.
Again to the protester credit, Fisk also makes clear that many are not about to be fooled again:
But Egypt’s hundreds of thousands of democratic revolutionaries – enraged by Mubarak’s refusal to abandon the presidency – started their own takeover of Cairo yesterday, overflowing from Tahrir Square, not only around the parliament building but the Nile-side state television and radio headquarters and main highways leading to Mubarak’s luxurious residency in the wealthy suburb of Heliopolis. Thousands of demonstrators in Alexandria reached the very gates of one of Mubarak’s palaces where the presidential guard handed over water and food in a meek gesture of “friendship” for the people. Protesters also took over Talaat Haab Square in the commercial centre of Cairo as hundreds of academics from the city’s three main universities marched to Tahrir at mid-morning.
It’s only just begun really, it would seem…