The Egyptian Military’s Defining Moment

(Community Matters) The army’s Communique No 2 says they will lift the state of emergency as soon as “current circumstances end” and endorsed the transfer of power to the VPs. Of course, protest leaders have got to be thinking, if crowds disperse what will Mubarak, his VP and their secret police do to us and will they keep their promises?

A super Stratfor summary:

The Egyptian Military’s Defining Moment

It was a night of watching. What was being watched was the Egyptian military, faced with a defining moment. President Hosni Mubarak was expected to resign today. People ranging from the head of the CIA to Egyptian government officials to the crowds in the streets clearly expected it to happen. Obviously, word had leaked out from sources close to Mubarak that he had made the decision to go. Yet when he made his speech today, he did not resign.

Indeed, for a time it was unclear what he said. Some translators thought he had said that he would remain president and cede some authority to the vice president. The printed version that we saw said that he would remain as president but cede all authority. The latter would have appeared to be a massive concession but the crowds in Cairo gained the impression that Mubarak said he would stay, ceding little. By the time the Egyptian ambassador to the United States cleared up the matter on CNN, the crowd felt betrayed and seemed no longer to care about the significant distinction. They did not want power to be ceded. They wanted Mubarak gone and they wanted the military to take care of the matter.

The fact that Mubarak was clinging to the constitution and the crowds were in effect calling for a coup represented a kind of irony, but ultimately not much of one. The crisis, rather than being over as had been widely expected, now moved into the night posing a simple question. Would the Egyptian military stand aside and let things take their course, would the military take a stand against the demonstrators or would the military depose Mubarak?

“The crisis, rather than being over as had been widely expected, now moved into the night.”

During the evening the military issued a communiqué that seemed to promise a second, definitive communiqué. Some expected the second communique would announce that the military had deposed Mubarak. As dawn approached, the second communique had not yet appeared. Decisions needed to be made by dawn on the disposition of troops, very different depending on intent. The planned demonstrations were to kickoff after midday prayers, but the crowds would be gathering during the early morning. If the military hoped to block the demonstrations, their forces must be deployed by dawn, or risk entanglement between moving troops and crowds.

Through the night, nothing seemed to happen. No major movement of troops was reported. There was no second communique. The military command could not have gone to sleep, so we have to assume a massive dispute within the military movement paralyzed them. The terms of the dispute are not hard to imagine. There is a constitution and Mubarak is the president. If he is simply forced out, the status of the constitution is in doubt and with it, the regime that the military founded under Nasser. Mubarak wanted to serve out his term, but was prepared to cede practical power. That, from their point of view, should have been enough. Moreover, if the military conceded constitutional process to the crowds now, what would they ask for next?

The other argument was that at this point the crowds were not asking for regime change, remaining focused on Mubarak. If the military resisted and the crowds turned on them, they would be calling for regime change and with it, everything would be up in the air. Far better to violate the letter of the constitution and depose Mubarak, then risk destroying it all by protecting Mubarak; far better to capitulate to the crowds than to fire on them.

Both sides had the same fear — regime change. One thought the way to prevent it was to side with Mubarak and his concessions; the other thought the way to prevent it was to concede to the crowds and overthrow Mubarak. The choices involved the fate of the nation and the military and one can imagine the arguments, people changing sides, decisions quickly reversed. The players were as confused as the observers.

Undoubtedly there were two actions. One was to have someone trusted go back to Mubarak and tell him that the demonstrators had rejected his offer and hope that he might change his mind. One thing we have learned in the last days is Mubarak is a tough man and it is not easy to change his mind. The second thing to do is to tap the operatives embedded in the crowd and get a measure of what the leaders are planning. Do they intend to bring down the government tomorrow — forcing a dreaded confrontation with the military — or will they be content to continue their demonstrations? The military certainly hoped Mubarak would change his mind or that the demonstrators were committed to avoiding confrontation.

One way to avoid decisions is to keep asking questions. It makes it appear that you are being judicious when in the end you cannot make up your mind. For the Egyptian military, the mission is to save the regime. The fate of Mubarak might be important to Mubarak but it cannot be to them. But their fear is that if they give the crowd Mubarak, the crowd will want more and protecting the regime is everything.

For the moment, it appears they will do nothing except prepare for the demonstrations without confronting the demonstrators and hope to get through the weekend. It is a plan, but a violent confrontation with the crowd is as much up to the crowd as to the military. It puts the decision in the hands of the demonstrators and makes the military onlookers. Logic has it that sometime by dawn, or in the early morning, the military will make a clear decision. For the moment, we watch.

This report is republished with permission of STRATFOR

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