Egypt's Military Takes Power: Who's in Charge?


However, there also are real limits to their tolerance. They will not accept a breakdown of the government or the economy. They will not accept paralysis or demonstrations that become violent, although they will not support a new wave of repression. Whoever is perceived as the most radically violent will tend to lose.

They good news is that Egyptians tend to be pragmatic and non-violent . And they have the best political jokes around. There are, however, serious legal barriers that need to be addressed.

With Mubarak's resignation there now must be an imminent election and the corrupt parliament has dissolved. There are emergency laws that allow opened-ended abuses. There are many in government and around Mubarak that occupy key posts and have a vested interest in blocking reform. These include top military and ex-military: Lieutenant-Gen. Omar Suleiman, the former head of the military intelligence service and now vice president; Ahmed Shafik, a former air force commander and now prime minister, and Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, the defense minister, the new deputy premier. They were all part of the Mubarak cadre. They also have little real political experience, no knowledge of reform, and little experience with the civil governance and economic reform Egypt will now need.

Moreover, the military do face a political system where any opposition has been suppressed and sidelined for some 30 years. No political parties have the level of experience in cooperation and governance to rapidly participate in an election or show they can govern. The largest opposition party, the Muslim Brotherhood, is led a by a gerontocracy and deeply divided between traditionalist and reformers, with extremists at the margins. The other parties are untried, although they have some bright intellectuals, and proven businessmen.

Regime change is only part of the story -- for the military and the Egyptian people: No matter who emerges as the post-Mubarak leader, the economic and demographic pressures that have driven this uprising are going to remain for at least several years.

This uprising takes place in the cauldron of world economic collapse. As in a disturbingly growing number of places throughout the world, in Egypt there are food spikes, fuel spikes, recession, a huge young population, weak job market and growing disparity of income.

There's famine in China. The UN has declared major food shortages throughout the world. In Egypt, many people live pretty close to subsistence. If not for food aid they wouldn't survive at all. There are few jobs here that offer the growing jobless population any status.

This may well mean that whatever new government comes to power has less than a 50 percent chance of surviving for two years. Patience is an Egyptian virtue, but the Egyptian people (and the military) are unlikely to tolerate failed politics, failed governance, and token progress.

This poses a long-term challenge for the US given the fact Egypt controls a critical global trade route in the Suez Canal, and the security of the Canal and pipeline have a major impact on energy prices and the world economy. Egypt is also key to the Arab-Israeli peace and stability in the region, US military overflights and staging, and the struggle against extremism. Egypt is a virtal US national security interest -- in fact, a far more vital interest than Afghanistan or Pakistan.

Middle East analyst and military expert Tony Cordesman is a national security analyst for ABC News and holds the Burke Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

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