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Mubarak Chooses Chaos—and Gets the Boot (UPDATED)

8:43 AM, Feb 11, 2011 • By ELLIOTT ABRAMS
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So the Egyptian Army will still face the binary choice it has sought to avoid: to back Mubarak and use force to suppress the populace, or present itself as the savior of the people and the state and throw him out. As the days go by the chances for a good outcome diminish—an outcome where a united military delivers the country from Mubarak to a far more open system. Omar Suleiman might have played the leading role in that happy drama, but has squandered his prestige on saving Mubarak. Instead, it is increasingly likely that the military will split. After regime thugs used violence in Tahrir Square two weeks ago, the new prime minister—Gen. Ahmed Shafiq, a former Air Force commander—let it be known that he disapproved and might resign. Perhaps this was disingenuous, but it is a very small taste of what may come. One danger is that the 70 year old generals who have feathered nests and who are personally loyal to Mubarak may want to stick with him far longer than 40 or 50 year old officers who want long careers after Mubarak is gone. If the Army uses violence against the populace, some general or colonel may refuse orders to fire and turn the tanks around. Last week an assassination attempt on Suleiman was reported; additional attempts against him and even against Mubarak are not impossible.

If the demonstrations grow and grow, it is still likely that the Army will in the end reverse itself and turn against Mubarak. The institution that is the ultimate guard against an Islamist effort to seize power, or against sheer anarchy, is threatened by Mubarak’s insistence that he must follow the Constitution and cannot resign. Few Egyptians will miss the irony: this man who for decades violated the rights their constitution guarantees them now seeks to hide behind it in order to protect his position. But if the military stays absolutely united behind Mubarak and Suleiman and suppresses the movement for democracy, it is sowing the seeds for a real and bloody revolution just a few years down the road.

All this is Hosni Mubarak's disastrous legacy. For thirty years he ruled under an emergency law that he used to crush all moderate and centrist parties. Not a single significant step toward democracy was taken during all those years of quiet. He will leave behind a Muslim Brotherhood stronger now than when he came to power. Under him, Egypt’s prestige and influence in the Arab League and throughout the region have declined to an historic low. To hang on these extra months he has thrust the country into chaos. The longer it continues the harder it will be for Egypt to find a path to real democracy. And the easier it will be for extremists to seize the opportunities that chaos always presents.

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