Egypt Is a Powder Keg. Will It Explode?

Measuring the revolutionary fervor in Cairo

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In its 16th day of protests, reports out of Cario illustrate a fever pitch of anti-government fervor. Swelling the ranks of the anti-Mubarak movement, the country's labor unions have gone on a nationwide strike. On Tuesday, Egyptians flooded Tahrir Square in what may have been the largest demonstrations yet. Painting the country's path forward in the starkest of terms, vice president Omar Suleiman said demonstrators have two options: "dialogue" or "coup." A this point, which is more likely?

A Coup  In Suleiman's remarks, he said a coup could come from a military takeover, a populist uprising or from within his own regime. In the case of a populist uprising, a coup would likely hinge on the stamina of the opposition—a force that The Guardian's Peter Hallward says is ever-growing. "With each new confrontation, the protesters have realized, and demonstrated, that they are more powerful than their oppressors," he writes. "When they are prepared to act in sufficient numbers with sufficient determination, the people have proved that there's no stopping them." Reporting from the ground, Foreign Policy's Blake Hounshell acknowledges the opposition's growing numbers. He says "the revolution is not over" and that a "much larger proportion of women and children" are joining the anti-Mubarak movement. Meanwhile, the leader of the Democratic Front, an opposition group, has dismissed the idea of a coup outright. “Talking of a coup is nonsense,” he told the Financial Times. “Those people have not understood what is happening in the country. A popular revolution has been going on for two weeks. Any talk of a coup means a direct action against the revolution and against the will of the people.”

A Crackdown--Or Something Worse  If Mubarak can't satisfy protesters' demands, the status quo cannot hold, says Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour, a leader of a liberal opposition party who is holding talks with the government. He suggests that a government-led crackdown could ensue. "We are faced with two choices. Either to move forward with reform through constitutional legitimate channels, or we're opening the door to complete chaos or a military coup." He says the the Mubarak government only needs seven days to implement the opposition's desired constitutional changes, which include setting term limits and allowing a wider swath of candidates to run for president. Neither of these demands have been met. Another opposition leader says Suleiman's words could only mean one thing: "He is threatening to impose martial law, which means everybody in the square will be smashed," he said. In the meantime, a journalist in Cairo is tweeting that police have begun a crackdown outside of Cario: "The police is cracking down brutally on the people in Kharga, Wadi el-Gedid Province. Live ammunition is being used on wide scale."

A Cooling  Egypt scholar and author of Egypt on the Bring Tarek Osman says he doesn't expect immediate fireworks: "To a large extent, every day brings slightly more security and stability. So it seems that the scary scenarios about the post-Mubarak era are receding. We're post-climax, to some extent. We are still in a transitional limbo, but it's relatively safer than it was."

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