One could be forgiven for wondering how cheering it is for Mubarak to be replaced by a military council, but the key thing that happened yesterday isn’t that Mubarak left – he was already gone, he just didn’t know it.

Suleiman prabably became the regime’s most influential figure when he was made vice-president, and when Mubarak delegated most of his authority to him, he looked like the undisputed leader of the government. (At the very least, before yesterday, he was formally in charge, and even in the dictatorships, institutional setups, and constitutional rules often matters, even in a partly lawless enviroment. ) The US, for reasons they know best, had pushed for and encouraged Suleiman taking over. The protesters of course weren’t happy with that, and when the regime relented and kicked Mubarak out, they had once again yielded, and strengthened the protesters. But it also constituted a change of power. While this isn’t quite regime change, the leadership have gone from Suleiman and his government to a military council led by Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

I’m not clear on Suleiman’s role in this new setup, but presumably he’s been entirely sidelined, esp. considering his hardline quotes so close to the resignation. That could only be a good thing.

By his statements on the 9th and 8th, saying Egypt wasn’t ready for democracy and saying a opposition takeover would be a coup, and would not be tolerated, he confirmed would should have been obvious, that he is a hardliner and not at all keen on yielding power. Suleiman, like Mubarak, and most figures in the regime, sincerely believe that their kleptocratic dictatorship is in the best interest of Egypt. If the revolution fails, Suleiman could, and maybe still can, become the leader of his country. If there is genuine regime change, even in the event of a managed transition he stands a greater chance than most regime figures of eventually being forced into exile or being prosecuted, having been directly involved in repression and persecution. The military council is probably not enthusiastic about democracy, but have less to gain and less to fear, and may not be as intransigent.

Tantawi, who leads the council, sounds even more intransigent in his attitudes, but he doesn’t look like longterm dictatorship material or as someone who’d dominate the council or be as nimble as Suleiman.

On the other hand, a lack of nimbleness and politcal skills coupled with the fact that the military can’t now both distance themselves and support the regime could make an escalation more likely.

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