The Mubarak regime was badly shaken Thursday night, Jan. 27, when Egypt's most powerful opposition movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, ordered its teeming membership to join the protest movement raging in Cairo and other cities since Tuesday after Friday (Jan. 28) prayers.
debkafile's Cairo sources report that the capital's poor districts, like Shubra which houses four million inhabitants, were bustling Thursday night with preparations for street action the next day. The question on all lips now is: Can the security forces control the many millions of protesters expected to suddenly pour into city streets across the land as of Friday and defend the regime against them.
The police, almost a million security officers and units of the Interior Ministry's special units, have been on their feet for three days quelling outbreaks. They are exhausted and demoralized. They managed to keep the demonstrations from getting out of hand, but not to suppress them. Now that millions of Muslim Brotherhood loyalists have been told to throw in their lot with the protest movement, the beleaguered 82-year old President Hosni Mubarak can no longer avoid sending the army in to stem the unrest, which looks increasingly like turning into a popular revolution.
The trouble is that no one can be sure of the army's total loyalty to the regime. The president cannot be sure that officers will agree to order their men to shoot demonstrators if need be, or whether the soldiers will obey such orders.
Even after three days, debkafile's sources report signs that the president and his immediate circle of advisers and ministers have not grasped the extent of their peril. For hours, security forces commanders begged the president to sign curfew decrees for the most troubled cities, but he refused. I
n the end, they clamped curfews down on their own initiative in Suez and Ismailia on the banks of the Suez Canal and across the canal in the northern Sinai town of El Arish close to the Israeli and Gaza borders. During the day, violent clashes between police and rioters occurred in all three towns, whose combined population is 1.7 million, eaving casualties whose numbers are unknown. Thursday night, their streets of the three towns were deserted except for heavy security patrols. No one was allowed to leave without a special permit.
The ministry responsible for mosques and preachers Thursday night issued directives to the imams who are state employees to focus their sermons Friday on calls to keep the peace and not participate in the anti-government demonstrations.
But those preachers, although their pay checks come from the public purse, are unlikely to go against the popular mood or dare defy the Muslim Brotherhood.
Later Thursday, rumors were floating around Cairo that President Mubarak was about to sack the government and promise early parliamentary elections. Neither was confirmed.