Egyptian army siding with protesters?

Earlier today, McClatchy ran an article wondering why the Egyptian army had not taken action to quell street demonstrations.  They have their answer now:

Egypt’s military says it recognizes “the legitimacy of thepeople’s demands” and promised to guarantee “freedom of expression” ahead of a planned escalation of the country’s week-old anti-government protests.

A military spokesman, Ismail Etman, has appeared on state TV saying the military “has not and will not use force” against protesters, but he urged them not to commit acts harming security or damage property.

The statement was the strongest sign to date that the military will allow week-old protests to continue and even grow as long as they are peaceful. The statement did not specify what demands the military views as legitimate — but the main demand by protesters is the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

That statement sounds like a death knell for the Mubarak regime.  The military had propped him up for the entirety of his dictatorship, after the assassination of Anwar Sadat left Mubarak in charge.  The lack of intervention by the army to this point could have been interpreted as a way to keep all options open, but endorsing “the legitimacy of the people’s demands” goes much farther than that.  It is at least an implicit endorsement of the demand that Mubarak flee into exile, and very much a signal that short of violence, the army will no longer keep him in power.

The news may have been lost among those now stampeding towards airports and other means of exit today, but the overall message hasn’t been missed at all:

Cairo’s international airport was a scene of chaos and confusion Monday as thousands of foreigners sought to flee the unrest in Egypt and countries around the world scrambled to send in planes to fly their citizens out.

Nerves frayed and shouting and shoving matches erupted as thousands crammed into Cairo airport’s new Terminal 3 seeking a flight home. The airport’s departures board stopped announcing flight times in an attempt to reduce the tension — but the plan backfired, fueling passengers’ anger.

Making matters worse, check-in counters were poorly staffed because many EgyptAir employees had been unable to get to work due to a 3 p.m.-to-8 a.m. curfew and traffic breakdowns across the Egyptian capital.

Anyone with means to flee and a destination to reach wants out of Egypt.  Don’t be surprised if Mubarak doesn’t join them soon.