In the seething, unpredictable and fast-moving chain of events in Egypt, DEBKA-Net-Weekly has pinned down four more or less hard facts that are important to note:
1. Mubarak is determined to stay. The embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is working to survive even if Barack Obama makes good on his threat to cut off aid to Egypt unless its ruler quits.
Our sources report that to win the biggest battle of his political life – and save his family and fortune – the Egyptian president, a warhorse of thirty years, is willing not only to throw Egypt into bloody mayhem but also to sacrifice his private capital.
It is important to bear in mind that Mubarak's private fortune is valued on the international markets at $15-20 billion. DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources in Cairo report signs that he has begun spreading about large sums of cash from moneys relayed by his sons, who left Egypt at the outset of the disorders and are managing his financial empire from London and Geneva.
With enough cash in hand, more than any opposition faction can lay its hands on, he appeared stronger rather than weaker after a ten-day protest campaign to oust him. Despite his broadcast pledge Saturday night, Jan. 29, not to seek another term in office, to transfer power peacefully in the last months of his presidency up until September and to die in Egypt, Mubarak appears more determined than ever to fight to the last whatever it takes.
Mubarak musters his military resources
Our Cairo sources have learned that Mubarak may have installed in the Abdeen presidential palace, under the protection of the Republican Guard, a private military command for orchestrating operations to keep him and his allies on top of the uprising against him. There are also reports that the RG commander, Maj. Gen. Samy Dyab, has placed himself directly under President Mubarak's command and no longer heeds orders from the defense ministry or the Egyptian general staff.
If matters come to a head, Mubarak will have at his disposal the Republican Guard and its heavily armored division, which is probably the best organized, most effective and best trained unit in the Egyptian Army.
2. The national army may be switching sides. On Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 2, the Egyptian army, which for nine days sat on the fence, appeared to have abandoned its neutrality.
Military checkpoints let 50,000 Mubarak loyalists, thugs of the Al Baltaqiya (literally Fist Companies), pass through without inspection and swarm into Tahrir Square, armed with automatic rifles, knives, swords, axes and Molotov cocktails. Some rode in on camels and horses and trampled the anti-Mubarak protesters still gathered in the square.
Thursday morning, Feb. 3, the army began making arrests. They appeared to be only rounding up protesters, who had by then dragged iron barriers and placed them around the square, and not touching the Mubarak supporters barricaded in tall buildings overlooking the square.
Therefore, Vice President Omar Suleiman's statement that he was suspending his offer of a dialogue with opposition leaders until the protesters went home played more to the interest of the pro-Mubarak faction than its opponents. If the protesters scatter and return to their normal lives, it will be hard to get them back on the street, whereas the pro-Mubarak legions are organized as paramilitary militias and can afford to stay on standby for further orders.
A ruling triumvirate is emerging
3. A rising star? Gen. Omar Suleiman, former Intelligence Minister and Mubarak's new Vice President, was clearly gaining stature Thursday. The reasons for this are still unclear. The face Cairo turned to Washington was of a solidly united Egyptian military controlled by three officers, Suleiman, Defense Minister Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, and Chief of Staff Gen. Sami Enan.
As we wrote this, no reliable source in Washington or Cairo could say for certain whether the trio was a triumvirate working together or three separate entities in competition, each with his own agenda.
The fog over the power structure behind, alongside or against Mubarak persuaded the White House Wednesday night to post copies to multiple addresses of President Obama's ultimatum to Egyptian army chiefs to remove Mubarak in the coming hours or else forfeit US aid to Egypt: Special envoy Ambassador Frank G. Wisner and the US Ambassador in Cairo, Margaret Scobey, delivered the message to Egyptian generals; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton picked up the phone to Omar Suleiman, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates communicated with Field Marshal Tantawi, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen phoned Sami Enan.
Loyalties at the second officer level from the top were even harder to determine. No one could tell, for example, where Egyptian Air Force commander Air Marshal (the equivalent of Lieutenant General) Reda Mahmoud Hafez Mohamed, stood at any given moment. Sunday, January 30, two Air Force F-16 fighter jets buzzed the opposition demonstrators shouting anti-Mubarak slogans in Tahrir Square. But as the days went by without a resolution of the crisis, no military or intelligence source could swear to the Air Force chief's commitment to the president or to the orders coming down from the top three officers who appear to be running the show.
Washington's campaign against Mubarak is stuttering
4. The Obama campaign hits a hump. President Obama's drive to remove the autocratic Mubarak from the Egyptian presidency in favor of a transitional military regime that will call new, free and democratic elections and institute reforms has run into a major obstacle.
It went swimmingly in the first days – from Jan. 25 to Feb. 1. (See separate article: Mubarak Believes a US- Backed Egyptian Military Faction plotted his ouster). World leaders were giving the media their unreserved opinion that the Mubarak era in Egypt was over.
But then, Wednesday, Feb. 2 the tide turned. Mubarak exhibited surprising symptoms of recovery and proved he was able to muster forces ruthless enough to fight and throw back the forces ranged against him.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources in Cairo say Friday and Saturday, Feb. 4-5 will be the critical days for determining whether the Egyptian president can sustain this momentum and hold out in Abdeed palace. If he lasts beyond the weekend – and the army stays neutral – his chances of overturning Obama's objective will be greatly enhanced. It must be said, however, that at the age of 82 and in poor health, the Egyptian president may drop unexpectedly by the wayside.
Still, following this setback, our Washington sources report that since Wednesday, the Obama administration looks like reluctantly getting ready to settle for half a loaf, namely, accepting the reality of a presumed military triumvirate ruling in Cairo without the opposition parties, so long as Mubarak goes.
But even that partial feat is no longer a done deal. By Thursday night, Feb. 3, the casualties were mounting and the nightmare of widespread civil violence country loomed ever closer.