Not a revolution, but a military coup

By Tim Marshall, February 17, 2011

Optimists peered through the Cairo dawn of February 12 and heralded a people's revolution ushering in a new era of freedom and democracy.

Less enthusiastic observers, looking through the exhaust smoke of the reversing tanks, saw a coup backed by a regime which will spend the year shoring up its power even as it prepares the country for free elections.

Egypt cannot go back to how things were, but this was no revolution. People power delivered the military what it wanted - the chance to get rid of Mubarak and ensure his son Gamal could not accede to the throne.

Not only were the Mubaraks challenging Nasser's heritage that the military is the state, their business interests threatened the military's profits in the commercial world.

When the protesters called for Mubarak to go, the military agreed. The generals would have been satisfied with the Mubarak offer to stand down in September and not hand over to Gamal, but when the protesters kept protesting, the military had to step in and usher Hosni onto his jet.

Egypt’s army would lose US aid if it tears up the peace treaty

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces took complete control, abolished the constitution, and dissolved parliament. One communiqué stated: "The current government and governors shall act as caretakers of all business until a new government is formed". That allows the military to ensure it keeps the hundreds of commercial contracts it has in the ports, transportation and manufacturing sectors.

A bigger challenge for the military will be to re-invent the National Democratic Party and make it acceptable to enough Egyptians so that when the elections come, it remains a force in Parliament.

Only the NDP and the Muslim Brotherhood are equipped to fight a national election, and there is little time for the protest movements to build national parties from the ground up. Also, it is unclear how much the demonstrators represent 80 million Egyptians. There were never "millions" of people in the street, no matter how much the Arab satellite stations reported those figures as fact.

The Americans, Israelis and others breathed a sigh of relief when the Supreme Council promised it was "committing the Egyptian Arab Republic to all regional and international obligations and treaties," by which it meant the Egypt/Israeli peace treaty of 1979.

This is no surprise. The Egyptian military is in no position to confront Israel, nor does it want to. If the US-supplied army tore up the peace treaty, it would quickly see the flow of spare parts dry up. So would large chunks of the $1.5 billion dollars a year it currently receives.

An (unlikely) electoral triumph for the Muslim Brotherhood could change everything, but the regime will spend all year attempting to ensure that it remains the dominant power in the land.

Tim Marshall is Sky News' Foreign Editor

Last updated: 1:56pm, February 17 2011