Does Egypt Need a Pharaoh?

NEW YORK – As Egypt’s revolution hangs in the balance, what factors are most likely to determine the outcome? While all eyes seem to be focused on the army, watching to see which way it will jump, other key questions are being overlooked.

Of course, what the army does is hugely important. Splits in a military-supported authoritarian regime can create gaps between the temporary interests of the small group closest to the “military as government” and the long-term interest of the “military as institution,” which is to be a respected part of the state and nation.

The Egyptian army’s statement early in the protests that its soldiers would not shoot at anti-Mubarak protesters was a classic “military as institution” move, and useful in itself for a democratic transition. By contrast, the army’s decision to allow Mubarak loyalists – some riding camels or horses – to charge into Cairo’s Tahrir Square and attack thousands of anti-government demonstrators was a classic “military as government” move.

At this point, a democratic transition will most likely require that the army play a more active role in protecting protesters. What is clear is that the interest of the “military as institution” depends on the army’s ability to establish much greater separation from the regime.