The president refuses to step down. What's next for Egypt? A coup? A revolution? A crackdown?
Some factions of the military may have their own material interests in mind when forcing Mubarak out. As in many undemocratic countries, the military is more than just the military. Egypt's officer corps is said to own or operate vast networks of commercial enterprises, including water, construction, cement, olive oil, the hotel and gasoline industries—in all, about one-third of the country's economy—as well as vast chunks of seaside property.
The protests and the chaos they have unleashed have caused grave economic damage—an estimated $315 million each day. These losses, much of them due to reduced tourism, will continue as long as the protests continue—and the protests will continue, it seems, for as long as Mubarak stays in power.
The army's material interests don't mesh so well with the premises of a thriving middle-class society. And the absence of such a society—the combination of large numbers of well-educated young people and few jobs to suit their talents—has no doubt fueled these last two weeks of protest.
That same WikiLeaks cable from the U.S. embassy in Cairo reported that the military views efforts at privatization "as a threat to its economic position, and therefore generally opposes economic reforms." To the extent the military does retain power in Egypt, the people's "rising expectations" may be frustrated, regardless of the outcome of this current clash. Whatever happens in the coming days and weeks, Egypt, once the emblem of Arab stability, might be locked in the dynamics of revolution for a long time to come.
Fred Kaplan is Slate's "War Stories" columnist and author of the book, The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter.
Photograph by Pedro Ugarte/AFP/Getty Images.