Friday, February 11, 2011

Egypt: Military Shifts Posture Closer to Mubarak?


Egypt’s Supreme Council of Armed Forces issued its second communique Feb. 11, stating that the military supports the transfer of powers from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to Vice President Omar Suleiman. The statement also said the military will end the state of emergency when the current situation stabilizes and will help ensure the legitimate demands of the people are met through free and fair elections. The message mirrored pledges made by Mubarak in his Feb. 10 speech, in which he surprised nearly everyone by refusing to step down. Essentially, the military is demonstrating its support of the embattled president, Mubarak, and the decisions he announced in a speech Feb. 10 that enraged the Egyptian opposition. Notably, this second military communique was delivered more than 11 hours behind schedule. The first communique delivered Feb. 10 came amid a flurry of statements claiming Mubarak’s resignation was imminent. In that earlier communique, the military expressed its commitment to the Egyptian people and said it was holding discussions to determine what measures would need to be taken to safeguard the homeland.

Clearly, there has been a shift in the military’s posture between the delivery of the first and second communiques. Whereas the first indicated the military was preparing for a direct intervention to remove the president, the second shows that (for now) the military is standing down. A number of factors are being examined in current negotiations between Egypt’s civilian and military elite concerning everything from financial assets to the risks of steering outside the constitutional bounds, to the need to maintain a civilian political vehicle to counter opposition forces like the Muslim Brotherhood. As these negotiations play out, the military appears to have decided to handle this political transition in incremental steps.

However, Mubarak remaining as president is a growing liability for the military, which has thus far maintained a positive relationship with Egyptian demonstrators. That relationship now runs the risk of breaking down, especially as tensions are running high following Mubarak’s Feb. 10 speech, which has Egypt likely on the verge of plunging into mass demonstrations following Friday prayers. If the military chooses to confront enraged demonstrators who are intensifying their calls for the army to take action on the side of the people and drop Mubarak, the situation on the streets could spiral out of control and hasten an army intervention. The question then will be if such an intervention will have come too late.

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