Analysts of the situation in Egypt say the regime of President Hosni Mubarak is under real threat, and that the army will determine whether he stays or goes.
Steven Cook, an Egypt expert with the U.S.-based Council on Foreign Relations says the use of the Egyptian army’s force is the last resort for Mr. Mubarak to quell the protests and stay in power. "Clearly, the interior ministry could not handle it and that is why we have seen the army on the streets of Egypt today. And there is precedence for this. In 1977, the army put down the bread riots, in 1986, they put down the central security forces riots, so this is not unusual. What is unusual is the size and scale of these riots," he said.
A professor at the University of Cairo, Howayda Mostafa, agrees these protests are unprecedented in recent Egyptian history. "The objective is change, social reform and political reform. I mean this time it is totally different than for the other demonstrations we saw before," Mostafa said.
Cook says Egyptian protesters were inspired by the people power movement in Tunisia, which led to the recent ouster of the more than two-decade former president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali. Cook says the decisive moment there was when the army stopped following the longtime president’s orders, and that the same could happen to Mr. Mubarak. "They could either defend (Mr.) Mubarak and the regime and help him preside over a more repressive state apparatus or they can see this 82-year-old guy who has made a mess of things due to little more than hubris and arrogance and push him aside but essentially reconstitute the regime under new leadership, because they are the beneficiaries of this regime," Cook said.
Cook says the ouster scenario could lead to more protests like in Tunisia, calling for a transitional government less tied to the former regime and quick elections.
Analysts say the number two Egyptian military officer, Lieutenant General Sami Anan, who headed back to Egypt Friday after previously scheduled meetings in Washington should be watched very closely, as he could sway the situation in a decisive direction.