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Expert details scenarios that could play out for Egypt as crisis continues

Text by Charlotte BOITIAUX

Latest update : 2011-02-05

Egypt specialist Barah Mikhail sees three possible ways the situation in Egypt could play out: President Hosni Mubarak could resign, there could be a military coup d’état or the demonstrations could gradually ease off.

In extraordinary scenes in Egypt, hundreds of thousands of angry citizens have taken to the streets to demand the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, in power since 1981.

On Monday Mubarak repeated his refusal to stand down immediately, saying the power vacuum would lead to chaos in a country whose stability is seen as vital in the troubled Middle East.

He did, however, pledge not to run in September’s presidential election. He said his son Gamal would not be standing either.

In an interview with ABC, Mubarak said he was “fed up” with being president and wanted to step down, but not yet.

But none of these concessions have washed with the protesters. On Friday the turnout in Cairo’s Liberation Square exceeded all previous demonstrations.

What happens next boils down to three likely scenarios, according to Egypt expert Barah Mikhail of the Paris-based Institut de Relations Internationales et Stratégiques (IRIS).

A “possible” outcome is that Mubarak will hold on to power despite the widespread anger against him and his regime. According to Mikhail, the anger may gradually abate given time.

“The Egyptian public is fairly certain following Mubarak’s earlier promises that neither he nor his son Gamal will stand for office,” he said. “It's possible that the demonstrations could fizzle out.”

Mikhail points out that the protests only took place in Egypt’s bigger cities – Cairo, Alexandria Suez and Aswan.

And while they were unprecedented in scale, “they did not involve all 85 million Egyptians”. He said it's "highly unlikely" that the protests could degenerate into a national crisis or a civil war.

“The youth is extremely motivated and well mobilised,” he said. “But most people have jobs to do, money to earn, mouths to feed. They cannot afford to let this crisis deepen over months and months.”

A second scenario, Mubarak’s resignation in the face of popular demands, is “plausible”.

In this case it would be likely that newly-appointed Vice President Omar Suleiman would step in to lead a transitional government until the September elections.

This scenario would both maintain the status quo and be “the most optimistic as it would led to the least amount of violence,” according to Mikhail. He said this solution would appeal to the EU and the Americans because it would “retain provisional stability through a legitimate ruler.”

“The protesters have been calling for Mubarak’s head and not for the immediate end of the government,” he explained, adding that Mohamed Badie, head of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood, would be prepared to negotiate with Suleiman once Mubarak was out of the way.

That would suit Nobel Peace laureate and former head of the UN’s atomic watchdog Mohamed ElBaradei, widely seen as a potential leader.

“ElBaradei would rather reinforce his campaign to run for president himself that run a provisional government,” Mikhail said.

A third and “least likely” scenario is a military coup, with the army taking control of the regime in the name of the people, installing a provisional government and fixing the dates for elections.

“This would only happen as a last resort if there was a dramatic escalation in violence,” Mikhail said. This is because the army is the backbone of the regime and many government ministers have come through the ranks.

“The army and the executive powers are strongly linked in Egypt. It would be a very strange thing indeed to see the head of the army turning against the status quo.”

While the army is loyal to the regime, it enjoys huge popularity among the population despite its somewhat ambiguous role during the protests.

Whether they have been colluding with the unpopular internal security services or being prudent in the face of an ever-changing situation, the army has been loathe to intervene in clashes between pro- and anti-Mubarak supporters.

“Still, the army promised not to shoot at protesters,” Mikhail said. “It will stick to this promise in order not to compromise its future.”

Timeline of Egypt's unrest

Date created : 2011-02-05

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