Analysts: Egyptian civil unrest to escalate despite military's efforts

Egyptian military denies violence
Egyptian military denies violence

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Egyptian military denies violence 03:04

Story highlights

  • Protesters won't be satisfied with government's efforts Tuesday, analysts say
  • Demonstrations will likely continue in days leading up to Monday's elections
  • Impasse is about military-led government's abuses and control of power
The showdown between Egyptian street demonstrators and the military-led government will likely escalate in the countdown to next week's parliamentary elections despite the military council's pledge Tuesday to speed up the transition to civilian rule, analysts said.
The impasse bears upon how angry protesters -- gathered once again in Cairo's Tahrir Square as they were during the revolution earlier this year -- are demanding that the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) withdraw immediately from power, analysts said.
At stake is the military's longtime role in Egyptian society -- controlling swaths of the economy from agriculture to bottled water to silverware production -- as well as the integrity of next Monday's first parliamentary elections since the February revolution, analysts said.
On Tuesday, the military council accepted the resignations of the country's cabinet in the wake of protesters' demand for change. The council also said presidential elections will be held by June.
"I don't think the announcement (Tuesday) is the end of the story," said Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat professor for peace and development at the University of Maryland and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
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"I think the demands (by protesters) will escalate over the next few days, and the military will have to go back to square one," Telhami said. "We're facing a bigger crisis than one could have imagined just two days ago."
Said Joshua Stacher, assistant professor of political science at Kent State University and an expert on Egypt: "It is a tough one because we can't see what's coming.
"They've reached a real impasse," he added.
If they continue through next week, the violent demonstrations will likely cast a pall over Monday's parliamentary elections, where two-thirds of the seats will be filled by parties and the other third by open candidates, analysts said.
Such civil unrest could scare away voters -- which in turn could "take away from the legitimacy of the elections and their integrity, and that's very troubling," said Samer Shehata, an assistant professor of Arab politics at Georgetown University.
Analysts credited the council's Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi with making a politically savvy maneuver Tuesday when he suggested a national referendum could be held on whether the military-led government should surrender power immediately.
"It's a beautiful move," Stacher said.
If a referendum were held, "it's going to formalize who is rejecting SCAF and who is accepting SCAF and I think the overwhelming number is going to support SCAF," Stacher said. "It's going to take that public spectacle we're seeing, and it's going to expose them as not having many numbers.
"We might see 75-25, with 25% voting against SCAF hypothetically," Stacher continued about possible referendum results. "We can get this dynamic which would give SCAF a stamp of legitimacy and numerically categorizes the opposition. They can call them instigators, but that doesn't make them go away."
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After four days of clashes with government forces in Cairo and elsewhere in the country, 30 Egyptians have died and some 1,950 more have been injured, the Health Ministry said.
In a further effort to satisfy protesters, Tantawi announced that a technocratic civilian cabinet will replace the one that resigned and that the caretaker military-led regime would hand over power after next June's presidential elections, analysts said.
But those declarations failed to placate the vast majority of demonstrators, the experts said.
Egyptians have been angered by the sort of human rights violations that were outlined Tuesday in an Amnesty International report that stated SCAF "has resorted to familiar patterns of abuse" as seen under former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's three-decade dictatorship, analysts said.
At the same time, civilians have been tried in 12,000 military tribunals since February -- while military personnel are tried in civilian courts for their offenses, such as breaking up labor discontent, Stacher said.
The military does "not want to give civilians oversight of their budget, and so you know what they're asking for is to be the unchecked power behind the throne," Stacher said. "They were one among equals in February, and now they are first among equals."
This week, Telhami of the University of Maryland released the results of an Egyptian opinion poll he took three weeks ago that showed only 20% of the public believed the military is trying to advance the goals of the revolution and 43% believed the armed forces are actually working against those goals, Telhami said.
Many leaders of the military, including Tantawi, were longtime members of Mubarak's regime, but the leadership threw Mubarak "under the bus" to save itself during the revolution, Georgetown University's Shehata said.
"The stakes are very high, and it's unlikely to see how these issues can be reconciled easily," Shehata said. "Essentially, the military is objecting to democracy and civilian control of the military, which is the objective of democracy.
"How can you hold elections in such a situation, with continuing instability and lack of security?" Shehata said. "That makes the transition more muddied and muddled."