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Don't Want to Rain on Your Cairo Parade, But the Army's Still in Charge

Hello out there, all you people deliriously celebrating the victory of democracy in Cairo's Tahrir Square. Please take some advice from an old Mideast hand: hold your horses (not to mention your camels).

I have not the slightest doubt that it was those 18 days of millions of heroic civilian voices demanding change that ultimately helped convince Egypt's military bosses to push their old colleague Hosni Mubarak out of office.

But remember this: in the end, it was those tightly ensconced high ranking army, air force and navy officers who actually did the shoving. And it is they and their dictatorial military like who have controlled Egypt for more than twice as long as Mubarak's 30 years of dictatorship. From Muhammed Naguib to Gamal Abdl Nasser, from Anwar Sadat to Hosni Mubarak. They also still call all the shots. Moreover, it was a long series of similar "popularly supported" military takeovers in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and other Arab states that led to other new dictatorships, most of which still remain in power.

So what are Egypt's chance now for positive democratic "accommodation"?

In my view, the best hope lies in what has already happened: a transfer of presidential power from Mubarak to a trio consisting of his Vice President Omar Suleiman, the Defense Minister Mohammed Tantawi, and retired General Ahmed Shafiq, the newly appointed Prime Minister. These are the men who call the shots - which this weekend included the announcement that they had suspended the overly complicated Egyptian constitution, disbanded Egypt's rubber stamp parliament, and were planning elections within six months.

Most important, the Suleiman-Tantawi-Shafiq military trio and the rest of the Mubarak picked "temporary" cabinet is supposedly in the process of deliberating with some of the most important non-governmental figures in Egyptian business, letters, science and academia in an attempt to debate and decide the wisest way forward for balance between the army and those demanding democratic reform. Leaders of some of Egypt's 24 small but serious opposition parties have already joined in these discussions in hopes of making enough progress to enable a meaningful democratic parliamentary election in September. The government and army have offered new concessions including freedom of the press, promised release of those detained since anti-government protests began and the lifting of the country's hated emergency laws.

And what of Hosni Mubarak? He may yet seek political exile and launch a campaign to return to power. That seems unlikely to happen and less likely to succeed. But short of that, Egypt's current ruling military triumvirate will remain in power - and Tahrir's mobs will be forced go home. Hopefully, Cairo's stubborn democratic celebrants will not give the Egyptian military an excuse to fire on them. More important, Egypt's true democrats will find real leaders, build political party structures and actively cooperate with the military in trying to find some semblance of freer public life for Egypt than what preceded. But be assured, the Egyptian military is not about to surrender full control of Egypt - at least not for a long time.

Hate to rain on your Cairo parade.

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