The riots in Cairo and other Egyptian cities do not count as the country's second revolution this year. The angry masses battling police in Cairo's Tahrir Square and the centers of Alexandria, Ismailia and Port Said for four days – even if they do muster a million demonstrators for removing the military council ruling Egypt since Hosni Mubarak's overthrow last February – are not backed by any serious political entity, including the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Supreme Military Council chairman, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi's proposition Tuesday, Nov. 22, will have put some of them on the spot: They must decide if their deadly clashes with police have achieved their purpose – or carry on until every last general has retired.
In a TV broadcast Tuesday night, Field Marshal Tantawi announced decisions to set up a new civilian national salvation government, hold parliamentary polls on time next Monday, Nov. 28, and bring forward the presidential election to the end of June 2012. Before the rioters hit the streets, the presidential election date was open-ended and stretched well into 2013.
The new government will be led by a "technocrat" prime minister rather than a politician, to speed up the transition to civilian rule. Until it is in place, the incumbent administration which resigned will carry on.
The military council is clearly trying to buy some control over the street and time, debkafile's Middle East sources report. It is the president who holds supreme power in Egypt; the government is subordinate to him. But because Egypt's post-Mubarak constitution has not been written, the procedures for electing a president and his powers are still open-ended.
Tuesday, as the violence escalated in Cairo's Tahrir Square, the military council invited mainstream political leaders, dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and mainstream political parties, to decide together how to calm the unrest and save Egypt from total anarchy in time for Monday's vote. The parliamentary election cycle goes on for four months until March 12.
They agreed that the unity government taking over would be a coalition between the politicians and the generals. The former understand they cannot control the street or attain elective power without the army's support.
It has not been missed in the West and Israel that the new civil government allows the Muslim Brotherhood for the first time in its history to hold office in national government.
A former Israeli defense minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, known for his dovish views and tendency to nag Israeli officials to make every effort to come to terms with the post-Mubarak rulers, offered a different message Tuesday: He urged the government to start getting used to the disappearance of the 32-year old peace treaty between the two countries, warning it would soon make way for full-blown conflict.
At the same time, the apparent handover of rule from the armed forces to a civil government is not expected to reduce the military junta's powers.
The party leaders and the presidential hopefuls Tuesday were faced with a choice between cooperating with the military rulers or else lining up with the Tahrir Square demonstrators. They opted for the former after noting that the protesters speak with several voices and have no real leaders.
On Nov. 22, Egypt therefore found itself pulled by two opposing currents: A civilian political system dominated by Islamic parties who are hand in glove with the military and committed to preserving the generals' powers; and popular street activism unabated by promised elections – at least until the military rulers step aside.
Tantawi and his council hope the protesters will soon get tired and go home.