The test of strength in Egypt is unfolding on familiar lines. The protesters have been in Tahrir Square for 17 days now, and the only way they are going to get rid of President Mubarak is by raising the projected level of force. They seem to be about to win, as reports are coming in from the media that Mubarak will be resigning within a matter of hours. Should he not resign, then the protesters are threatening that after Friday prayers tomorrow even larger demonstrations will be mounted, and there will be attacks on state institutions such as Nile TV and maybe even the Parliament.
Mubarak was in the position of having to mobilize the counter-force that would have cleared the square. He had his chance a few days ago when his men took on the protesters. The clashes were violent, but not violent enough to give him victory. The army stood by, and that was the decisive factor that sealed Mubarak’s fate. Now he can no longer mount the superior force that alone could have kept him in office.
Power for the moment is lying in the streets, for someone to pick it up. It is unlikely that the protesters will succeed in doing so. Their program is to be rid of Mubarak, nothing more. It is all very well for them to talk about committees, constitutions, and free and fair elections, but this is in the abstract, as no practical means exist for fulfilling these desirable ends. In their hands, power would immediately dissolve into anarchy.
That leaves the final outcome of this confrontation in the hands of the army. The minister of defense, the chief of staff, and the general commanding Cairo are shrewd and experienced men. In all probability, they foresaw how these protests would unfold, and for all one knows they may have coordinated with Mubarak the transfer of power from him to themselves. They have shed no blood. They represent authority. They expect to be able to send the protesters home from the square without a shot being fired.
Military Communiqué Number One has already been issued to show that the army is in command. It would be a really dangerous gamble for the protesters to try to raise superior force. For the time being, in short, this looks like an exemplary military coup.