MUNICH (Reuters) - Egypt’s army is working with the West to remove President Hosni Mubarak from power in return for keeping its behind-the-scenes dominance of the political system, a leading Western expert on the Egyptian armed forces said.
Robert Springborg, Professor of National Security Affairs at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, said the army was dragging out a resolution of the crisis to “exhaust” the energy of a 12-day-old revolt against Mubarak 30-year-old rule.
The tactic would also focus the anger of the uprising against Mubarak, and not against the military-based system.
“Its political jujitsu on the part of the military to get the crowd worked up and focused on Mubarak and then he will be offered as a sacrifice in some way,” he said by telephone.
“And in the meantime the military is seen as the saviors of the nation.”
Mubarak, who has pledged to step down in September, said on Thursday he believed Egypt would descend into chaos if he were to give in to almost two weeks of demands by an unprecedented popular revolt that he quit immediately.
He has styled himself as a bulwark against Islamist militancy and essential actor in maintaining a peace treaty Egypt signed with Israel in 1979.
Springborg said the United States and Europe appeared to be willing to go along with a continued powerful military role, at the risk of dashing the uprising’s hopes for democracy, because they feared the consequences of turmoil in the Arab world’s most populous nation.
”The military will engineer a succession. The West - the U.S. and EU -- are working to that end.
“We are working closely with the military ... to ensure a continuation of a dominant role of the military in the society, the polity and the economy.”
“The demands (from the West) are not for the removal of the military from power and to establish a civilian-led democracy. The demands have been for the military to organize a transition.”
Speaking at a security conference in Munich, the leaders of Germany and Britain said on Saturday they wanted Egypt to change its leadership rapidly and start political reforms, but to take its time holding elections, saying traditions of tolerance and fairness had to be built to make democracy work.
Springborg said he did not know whether Mubarak was involved in all the dealings between the army and Western governments, and he suspected the veteran leader would like to stay in office until his mandate expires in September.
“But what he must have is what the military must have, and that is a continuation of military rule” because only continued military influence in the apparatus of power would guarantee that Mubarak and his family and associates would not be persecuted by a future government after his resignation.
Egypt’s large armed forces -- the world’s 10th biggest -- have been at the heart of power since army officers staged the 1952 overthrow of the monarchy.
Egyptians tend to respect the military, which is less linked with daily repression than police and security agencies.
Springborg said he expected divisions to appear in the ranks of the uprising when it became apparent that it had failed to bring about a democratic transformation of the country. But this would not lead to significant instability in the short-term.
“So what are the people who did all this left with? The feeling that they got rid of Mubarak. Some will congratulate themselves. Some will feel they got outplayed in the endgame. But they will be fragmented for some considerable period of time.”
Reporting by William Maclean, Editing by David Brunnstrom and Ralph Boulton