“The new man had risen by grace of his predecessor’s will. He had had no political past. The people of Egypt had not known of him. He was the antidote to two great and ambitious figures—Nasser and Sadat. His promise was modesty. He would tranquilize the realm after three decades of tumult and wars and heartbreaking bids to re-make the country.

“A deceased friend of mine, an army general of Mr. Mubarak’s class and generation, spoke of the man with familiarity: He was a civil servant with the rank of president, he said of his fellow officer. Mr. Mubarak put the word out that he would serve two six-year terms and be gone. But the appetite grew with the eating. The humble officer would undergo a transformation. A presidency-for-life announced itself. And in an astounding change, where Nasser and Sadat feared the will and the changing moods of their countrymen, Mr. Mubarak grew imperious and dismissive.

“Egypt bent to his will. A country with a vibrant parliamentary tradition in the 1920s and 1930s became a sterile tyranny. A land that had opened onto Europe in the course of the 19th century, that had given rise to professional syndicates and associations, to an independent judiciary, was brought low.”

***
“If Mubarak agrees to loosen his grip on power, it is difficult to imagine a negotiated solution that does somehow bring the Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition groups a measure of power. And from then on the power will slip inexorably into the hands of the best prepared and organized opposition group. But to even gain such a negotiating position would require Mubarak to demonstrate clearly to the MB that it will be too expensive to give him the bum’s rush now. From a Machiavellian perspective the best way to maximize Mubarak’s chance of negotiating his way out is to crack down hard now — with all the risks that entails. But by signaling in advance that Washington will not countenance brutality, that option is closed and the opposition’s best chance may be to press on, knowing they will not face the full force of the Egyptian regime.

“The White House is caught in a cruel dilemma. If they give Mubarak the green light to crack down hard under the temporary cloak of the Internet blackout, they could create a tide of anger that will end up in Riyadh — not to mention a tut-tut or two from the New York Times. But if they force Mubarak to lift the Internet blackout and go softly, the MB will press forward knowing the Egyptian dictator’s prescribed limits. Can they come down the middle? Use just enough force to get Mubarak to the bargaining table without causing massive casualties?

“That is the greatest unknown.”

***
“The army commands broad respect in Egypt. Demonstrators cheered on Friday as tanks deployed in front of government buildings like the Foreign Ministry and the main broadcast center. The demonstrators were partly inspired by the Tunisian example, analysts said, and some hoped that the military might play a similar role in Egypt…

“But deploying tanks is a sign of desperation, and raises the question of when the military might begin to doubt Mr. Mubarak’s viability. The tipping point could come, analysts believe, if the military is ordered to fire on demonstrators in any large numbers. It is one thing to protect government buildings from looters, but something else to tarnish the reputation of the army by killing citizens, they said.

“‘If the military fires on civilians after demonstrations that are clearly popular, that will imperil the standing of the military, its integrity,’ said Samer Shehata, a professor of Arab politics at Georgetown University. ‘This time the institution’s future is at risk.'”

***
Via Verum Serum.