Will Egypt's Government Fall?

Stress-testing the grip of an unpopular regime

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From a U.S. government perspective, the massive demonstrations in Egypt are troubling. As the Egyptian military and anti-government forces clash, the U.S. risks losing a key regional ally. On Tuesday, tens of thousands of protesters flooded the streets, many inspired by Tunisia's populist revolution, which unseated its president. Could Egypt be the next Tunisia? Below are videos from the demonstrations followed by commentary in the blogosphere:

  • The Opposition Is Broad, writes Kareem Fahim and Mona El-Naggar at The New York Times. From interviewers with protesters, they determine that "the government's deepest fears" have come to pass: "opposition to [President Hosni] Mubarak’s rule spreads across ideological lines and includes average people angered by corruption and economic hardship as well as secular and Islamist opponents. That broad support could make it harder for the government to co-opt or crush those demanding change."

Despite a US statement that the government of Egypt is stable, the demonstrations show that it has suppressed a large undercurrent of potentially incendiary opposition, whose capabilities are not known. Sclerotic regimes like those of Mubarak never know the depth or expanse of their real opposition because they are so busy suppressing it. This creates the condition for a field-grade officers' coup to install a reformist government, which Egypt has experienced whenever a government has overstayed its welcome...

  • Mubarak's Time Has Come  "They say that the relationship between a dictator and the people of his country is like that of a lion tamer and a lion," writes Jody McIntyre at The Independent. "The lion tamer knows that the lion could eat him at any point. In fact, everyone knows that the lion could eat him at any point, apart from the lion itself. Yesterday, the Egyptian people awoke from a lion's slumber." McIntyre notes that "this year will mark the thirty-first consecutive year since a 'state of emergency' was officially declared in Egypt in 1981. Mr. Mubarak, not even that will save you now."

  • But Egypt's Military Is Strong  Egypt is different from Tunisia in that its military is powerful and "stands with" President Mubarak, writes Time's Abigail Hauslohner. Much of this strength is thanks to the United States, reports CNN: "U.S. military aid to Egypt totals over $1.3 billion annually, and the U.S. Agency for International Development has passed along over $28 billion in economic and development assistance to the country since 1975." The Daily Beast's Mike Giglio adds that Egypt's police state "can be brutally effective at crushing dissent." Also the government is "paying close attention" to the events in Tunisia as not to become the next Middle Eastern government to fall.
  • Either Way: The U.S. Has a Lot to Lose, writes Shadi Hamid at The Atlantic:
The U.S. can opt for relative silence, as it did in Tunisia. In Egypt, however, deep support of the Mubarak regime means that silence will be interpreted as complicity. On the other hand, if the U.S. offers moral support to embattled protestors, it will be actively undermining a government it considers critical to its security interests. Tunisia, as far as U.S. interests are concerned, was expendable. The revolt was spontaneous and leaderless. Islamists - mostly in prison or in London - were nowhere to be seen on the streets of Tunis or Sidi Bouzid. But if Egypt is lost, it will be lost to an uprising that includes some of the most anti-American opposition groups in the region, including the Muslim Brotherhood - by far the largest opposition force in the country. The U.S. is - at least in the short term - stuck.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.