Egypt's massive pro-reform protests have proved that a Tunisian style government overthrow may not be as easy to replicate in the country of pharaohs and pyramids.
Egyptian protesters have been calling for the ouster of their long-standing president, Hosni Mubarak, since January 25, but Mubarak continues to hold his ground where former President Ben Ali of Tunisia retreated.
In Cairo and other cities across Egypt, riot police began their crackdown on demonstrators after morning prayers on Friday. As rumor has it, Mubarak is on the verge of stepping down and the president's son has already fled to London. But in the Middle East, gossip is a popular political tool.
The public pressure on Mubarak to step down is mounting. But Egypt's president, who has been ruling the country for three decades (he came to power in 1981, following the assassination of Anwar Sadat), does not seem ready to go just yet. In a televised speech to the nation on Saturday, Mubarak dismissed his government and promised to pursue reforms. But Mubarak gave no hint that he would be stepping down.
Can Mubarak be overthrown?
Anything seems possible in the Middle East these days, including Mubarak's ouster. But for the time being, the Egypt's authoritarian ruler is employing familiar tactics to remain in power.
On January 27, the authorities in Egypt cut off all access to the Internet, including social media such as Facebook and Twitter, which protesters have been using to organize protests.
This unprecedented move is further evidence that Mubarak is unwilling to yield to public pressure to resign.
Clearly, anti-government protests in Egypt will continue. But it remains to be seen what form these protests will take.
The outlawed Islamic movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, has joined the protesters' ranks after intially standing to the side. Some of the Brotherhood's leaders have been arrested, but there are plenty of rank-and-file members ready to fight for their cause. More violence could be in the offing.
Though unprecedented in scale, the latest outburst of anger against Mubarak's strong-arm rule falls short of a revolution. Thankfully so. For Egypt, the largest country of the Arab world, and for its neighbors, a revolution would be a curse rather than a blessing.
Mubarak's fall would send shockwaves across North Africa and beyond. The region could descend into turmoil, as Europe did following the collapse of the Eastern bloc in 1989. But in the Middle East, the situation is far more combustible.
In all likelihood, the remainder of the ageing pharaoh's reign will be neither long nor calm, and he will be unable to pass on the scepter to his son, Gamal.
The pro-reform protests have been targeting Mubarak as well as his inner circle, so if Gamal were to stand in the next election in September, it would likely be a breaking point.
Mubarak understands his people only too well. He is perfectly aware that the anti-government rallies in Cairo and Suez, however massive, are still short of a nation-wide revolt.
Indeed, an instant revolution is hard to bring about in a country like Egypt, where rural dwellers form the bulk of the population. Most favor caution and moderation. A military coup is much more likely, but the Egyptian military show no signs of disobedience at this point.
The top brass does not seem particularly excited by the prospect of Gamal taking over the presidency from his father, a career military officer. In Egypt, it is dangerous for the head of state to ignore the mood of the military.
Former UN official takes the lead
According to pro-government newspapers, the Egyptian authorities are working hard to formulate an adequate response to the protests. They have reportedly prepared welfare and economic reform packages and have also outlined plans to expand civil liberties. Will this satisfy the protesters?
A Western observer once remarked that gods had made the Egyptians naive enough for pharaohs to be able to cheat them. But nothing is permanent in this world, and, sooner or later, the Egyptian people will begin to see the light.
The nation is getting younger. Currently, two-thirds of Egypt's population are around the age of 30.
The builders of the pyramids and their descendants learned to enjoy the calm of slavery. But now more and more Egyptians are refusing to live in a climate of fear. They are rising against their sovereign. And even the Muslim Brotherhood's radicalism, played up by Mubarak to keep the opposition at bay, does not scare them off any more.
Egypt's ongoing anti-government protests, quite chaotic initially, may now become better orchestrated. Mohamed ElBaradei, a prominent campaigner for reform and former head of the IAEA, the UN's nuclear watchdog, has returned to Egypt from Vienna to lead the country's opposition. One should not assume, however, that ElBaradei is a darling of the nation or that he enjoys universal support. Rather, he is seen in his homeland as the most appropriate figure to head a caretaker government once Mubarak is gone. But even if he wins the presidency in this year's elections, ElBaradei, 68, is unlikely to stay in power for long.
Egypt causing headache around the globe
The current unrest in Egypt is a source of serious concern for ruling elites across the globe. The United States, Europe, and Russia have invested heavily in the incumbent president, and they would not want to see their investments go down the drain. And Israel is alarmed over the prospect of losing its main moderate partner in the Arab world.
A diplomat and lawyer by training, ElBaradei has spent most of his career working for the UN. As such, he us unlikely to launch any sweeping reforms in Egypt. Many observers also doubt that he is strong enough to hold the nation together.
It remains to be seen how Egypt will get out of its present turmoil. Tensions are running high and may spill over into neighboring countries. Massive anti-government rallies have already erupted in Yemen, where protesters are demanding the resignation of President Abdullah Saleh, another old-time Arab ruler who has been in power for 32 years.
Ruling a country isn't as easy as it used to be.
The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.