FACTBOX - Balance of power between Mubarak and opponents

  • World
  • Sunday, 06 Feb 2011

CAIRO (Reuters) - The balance between the two sides in the Egyptian crisis is at a delicate juncture and it is still too early to see how the confrontation will end.

Here is a summary of the sources of strength of the two sides:


* The protesters have the numbers, for the moment. The movement brought more than one million people onto the streets last Tuesday and its rally in central Cairo on Friday was almost as well attended. The protests have also been massive in provincial cities and towns, especially Alexandria, Suez and the textile town of Mahalla in the Nile Delta. Rallies in favour of Mubarak have been much smaller. They started later and have already started to diminish. But some Egyptians say the government has made enough concessions and the protests should end. Many say they are tired of the disruption and losses the protests have caused.

* The opposition has widespread international sympathy, enhanced by the reputation it has earned for non-violence. A crucial phase in the battle for public opinion came when Mubarak supporters attacked the protesters on Wednesday and tried to expel them from the square with rocks, petrol bombs and gunshots. The protesters are searched for weapons when they enter Tahrir Square and have to defend themselves with whatever they can find there.

* The protesters have a promise from the army that it will not shoot them. Although the army's role has been mysterious and ambiguous, most do at least trust the army to keep that promise.

* Foreign governments, the United Nations and international rights groups have upheld their right to demonstrate peacefully and is watching the Egyptian government's behaviour carefully. Any attempt to disperse the Tahrir Square protests by force would lead to condemnation and international isolation.

* The opposition has the momentum, again for the moment. Mubarak and others in government have made a succession of concessions and gestures, the most important of which was Mubarak's announcement that he will not stand for re-election when his current term runs out in September. The core protesters have held fast to the demand that Mubarak must leave.


* Mubarak is supreme commander of the armed forces, which has more than 450,000 men and a vast arsenal of weapons. But so far the army has done little to help his cause, other than to protect government buildings. It has sometimes restricted access to Tahrir Square but not in a way that severely hampers the protest movement's activities. The army has urged the protesters to go home but the protesters has ignored it. No outsiders can readily judge whether the army command might at some stage press Mubarak to give up and resign.

* The police forces, especially the Central Security riot police force, are in serious disarray after withdrawing from the streets on Jan. 28. Vice President Omar Suleiman has said it will take months to restore their capabilities. But if the confrontation drags on, some police units could return as a force in Mubarak's favour.

* Mubarak remains president of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) but the party is immensely unpopular and many of its offices have been ransacked or burned. In practice, the party is not a very significant asset.

* Mubarak still controls the state media, which have proved one of his most loyal tools, broadcasting a stream of propaganda in his favour. But many Egyptians now have access to a wide range of satellite television channels that the government cannot control. The Qatari channel Al Jazeera played an important part in keeping Egyptians informed but the government has now made it more difficult to receive.

* The popular uprising has alarmed many Egyptians, including some prosperous middle-class people, those who benefited from the old system and some Coptic Christians who fear the inclusion of the Muslim Brotherhood in political life. But those people are unlikely to come out in the streets for the moment.

* Mubarak has support and sympathy from right-wing leaders in countries such as Israel, Italy and Saudi Arabia. On Saturday the United States shifted its position significantly, saying that Mubarak should stay on for some time to supervise political change -- not very different from Mubarak's position. But foreign connections are a political liability for both sides.

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