Eyes are on the Egyptian military now. What will they do?
A week ago, it was said: Egypt is not Tunisia, and the Egyptian military is not the Tunisian military.
A week ago, that was surely true.
Today, it is not quite so obvious.
What will be true tomorrow?
It is true that the Egyptian military has a different history in its relationship with the state, than the history of the Tunisian military. The Egyptian military has been closely intertwined with the rest of the state. It has been considered very loyal to Mubarak.
But now the Egyptian military may be forced to confront a choice that it did not have to confront before: choosing between loyalty to Mubarak, and loyalty to the people.
Moreover, in a crucial development, protesters have been making a direct moral appeal to the military to choose loyalty to the people. The potency of this moral appeal is obvious. It is well-known in Egypt that people in Tunisia regard the Tunisian military as heroes of the revolution who intervened to stop the repression. The prospect of having that status in Egypt would be like a lifetime Academy Award.
More than 100,000 Egyptians from all walks of life gathered on Saturday at the central square in Cairo, as military officers stationed in the area embraced the protesters, chanting "the army and the people are one - hand in hand."
The military officers removed their helmets as they were hoisted up by the crowd in ecstasy. The masses gathered at the square singing, praying and chanting that they will not cease their protest until Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resigns.
On the ground, at least, it appears that such moral appeals have had dramatic effects on the relationship between the military and the police; the police had been the front line of Egyptian government efforts to repress the protests.
This dramatic footage from the English-language Daily News Egypt shows what happened this morning near Cairo's Tahrir Square when three Egyptian military armored vehicles moved in between protesters and police, apparently to protect protesters from police fire.
Of course, what soldiers do on the ground is one thing. What the leadership of the military does is another.
However, there is now a real question about what kinds of orders from the government the Egyptian military can reliably be expected to execute.