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All eyes on Egypt's military as Hosni Mubarak fortifies position


January 30, 2011 - Hosni Mubarak sought to boost his battered image as Egypt's leader today, flaunting the support of the armed forces, whose loyalty he will need to retain if he is to survive in office. The embattled president was shown on state TV visiting an army operations centre, listening to briefings as if directing a battle and flanked by his new deputy, Omar Suleiman, and defence minister, Mohamed Hussein Tantawi. With protesters and opposition parties demanding Mubarak's immediate departure, he is showing his instinctive reliance on the military, backbone of the Egyptian regime since Gamal Abdel Nasser and his fellow "free officers" overthrew the monarchy in the 1952 revolution...

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All eyes on Egypt's military as Hosni Mubarak fortifies position

Ian Black,

Army has played leading role in managing events and may well determine next stage of crisis

January 30, 2011

Hosni Mubarak sought to boost his battered image as Egypt's leader today, flaunting the support of the armed forces, whose loyalty he will need to retain if he is to survive in office.

The embattled president was shown on state TV visiting an army operations centre, listening to briefings as if directing a battle and flanked by his new deputy, Omar Suleiman, and defence minister, Mohamed Hussein Tantawi.

With protesters and opposition parties demanding Mubarak's immediate departure, he is showing his instinctive reliance on the military, backbone of the Egyptian regime since Gamal Abdel Nasser and his fellow "free officers" overthrew the monarchy in the 1952 revolution.

Since troops were deployed in Cairo on Friday, the army has played a leading role in managing events and may well determine the next stage of the crisis.

Mubarak's key move has been the appointment of Suleiman, his veteran intelligence chief, as vice-president, and Ahmed Shafiq, formerly minister of aviation and commander of the air force, as prime minister.

Neither ordinary people nor commentators were impressed by what looked like the shuffling of a familiar pack. "The appointments show that the regime isn't serious about real, meaningful reform," Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Centre told al-Jazeera. "If you were serious about democracy, would you appoint the chief of intelligence as your vice-president?"

Crowds gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square chanted: "Hosni Mubarak, Omar Suleiman, both of you are agents of the Americans."

Still, the army remains relatively popular with Egyptians certainly far more than the interior ministry's security and riot control units. Troops have been guarding key main installations since police lost control of the streets, but they have failed to enforce the curfew and have often fraternised with protesters rather than confronting them.

Suleiman and Tantawi are untouched by the taint of corruption and personal wealth that attaches to, unlike many in power. Suleiman, 74, is seen as fiercely loyal to Mubarak and has been intimately involved in the most sensitive issues of Egypt's national security and foreign policy for nearly 20 years. In 1995, two years after taking over Egypt's General Intelligence Service, he saved the president's life during an assassination attempt in Ethiopia.

He was also instrumental in defeating the insurrection mounted by Egyptian armed groups such as Islamic Jihad. In recent years, one of Suleiman's biggest preoccupations has been dealing with the volatile Palestinian file, mediating between the western-backed Fatah movement and the Islamists of Hamas a group with special resonance in Egypt because of its control of the Gaza Strip and its links to the Muslim Brotherhood. He has also been involved in mediation attempts between rebels and the government in Yemen.

Analysts speculate that one possibility for the next step in Egypt is that the US, now calling for "an orderly transition" in response to the crisis, could try to persuade the generals that Mubarak should step down and allow political reforms to begin. The chief of staff, Sami Enan, returned at the weekend from a visit to Washington. US military aid has been a crucial asset to the regime since Egypt's 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke with Enan by telephone yesterday and praised the "professionalism" of Egypt's military.

However, diplomats said there was no sign that senior military men in Cairo are preparing to ditch the president.

Observers note that it was Tunisian generals who persuaded Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to flee into exile this month after weeks of unrest.

When Mohamed ElBaradei announced that he had been delegated by opposition groups to discuss the formation of a national salvation government, he said that he would "be in touch soon with the army," adding pointedly: "The army is part of Egypt."

The military, however, will be suspicious of the influence of the outlawed but semi-tolerated Muslim Brotherhood, which has been keeping a low profile in the protests so far but has now indicated that it is supporting ElBaradei.



:: Article nr. 74459 sent on 31-jan-2011 03:58 ECT

www.uruknet.info?p=74459

Link: www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jan/30/egypt-military-hosni-mubarak



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