Military takeover in Egypt aired as army holds fire
The possibility of the military taking control of the regime on the back of the popular uprising to end Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule was actively discussed Friday night, Jan. 28, after security forces failed to control anti-government riots for four days. Protesters in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez ignored the nationwide curfew imposed until 0700 Saturday and the soldiers who were called in to enforce it held their fire. Protesters overturning and burning security forces vehicles welcomed the military APCs.
The transfer of rule to the military even for an interim period would shake the entire Middle East to its foundations. The US stands to lose its senior Arab ally, whereas a new government in Cairo might modify or abandon Egypt's epic 1979 peace treaty with Israel and turn away from the close relations between the two governments.
debkafile reported earlier:
Egyptian protesters tried to storm the foreign ministry in Cairo Friday night, Jan. 28 in defiance of nationwide curfew imposed on the capital, Alexandria and Suez, until 0700 hours Saturday. President Hosni Mubarak called in the army to back the security forces facing swelling numbers of protesters and enforce the curfew. Gunshots were heard near the parliament and thousands of protesters remained out in the streets. At least 10 people were killed and more than a thousand wounded in Cairo during the day. In Suez, 13 are reported dead, 75 injured.
The protesters later set fire to parliament, the national museum and the ruling National Democratic Party whose offices were later looted.
Some soldiers and policemen instead of confronting the rioters reportedly shed their uniforms and joined them.
Mubarak who has not been seen or heard since the crisis began is said to be planning to address the nation soon.
Tanks were seen on the streets of Suez with protesters climbing over them. A least two deaths and dozens of people were injured in the rising turbulence of clashes between security forces and the swelling ranks of protesters across the country. Friday was the fourth and most violent day of the anti-government demonstrations across Egypt, after they were joined by followers of the Muslim Brotherhood.
debkafile's military sources report that calling in the army was President Mubarak's last resort for preserving his regime but it is not without problems. The military may possibly be relied on to impose the curfew on the cities Friday but Saturday, after it is lifted, their absolute obedience to an order to shoot demonstrators cannot be taken for granted – as was seen Friday night. The president and defense minister are not the most popular figures among the soldiers. And the officers may well calculate that both ageing leaders will not be there for long and the army would take the rap for suppressing a popular revolution by mass killings of civilians. No Egyptian commander would want to be in line for that charge.
During the day in Cairo, the protesters' ranks swelled to tens of thousands when Muslim worshippers poured out of the mosques, many heading for the Nile bridges and fighting to cross over to the government district and Tahrir (Liberation) Square on the other side. Security forces firing rubber bullets and tear gas, using water cannons and charging them with batons, injured hundreds but failed to halt the current. Youths climbed over elite security forces' armored cars trying to pull the men out of the vehicles. Two police stations were torched. The protesters called for President Hosni Mubarak, his family and his ruling elite – ""the corrupt caste" – to step down. Opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradai was placed under house arrest.
American citizens were advised to stay indoors.
In Suez, a protester died in a clash. In central Alexandria, they set fire to government buildings. Protesters were also on the streets in Suez, Ismailia, Mansoura north of Cairo and northern Sinai. The protest movement Friday was the largest thus far, greatly enlarged by orders to Muslim worshippers to take to the streets from leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, eight of whom were promptly arrested. The demonstrations appear to be better organized and focused on specific targets, primarily security and police facilities, government buildings and offices of Hosni Mubarak's ruling party.
Earlier, the authorities disrupted internet and telephone services to make it harder to organize demonstrations to no avail. Steps were also taken to impede press coverage of the outbreaks and foreign correspondents prevented from covering the ongoing events.
The White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Friday night in answer to a question that President Barack Obama has not spoken to President Mubarak at any point in the crisis. He said US aid to Egypt would be reviewed in the light of unfolding events, depending on whether the Mubarak regime immediately addressed the legitimate grievances of the Egyptian people by reforms and restrained the military and security forces from violence.
Asked if the US was helping its veteran Arab ally, Gibbs stressed: "The situation must be solved by the Egyptian people" which must be granted "its universal rights."
In Jordan, the Muslim Brotherhood there too called out its followers for anti-government demonstrations.