With dictator Hosni Mubarak out of the way, the Egyptian uprising is witnessing a cut-throat clash of interests and is struggling to define its future course.

As rivals grapple for political space, the faint outlines of at least two alternatives have become visible. With the conservative old guard minus Mr. Mubarak still in charge of steering the transition, Egypt could become a nominal democracy with a significant authoritarian overhang. Alternatively, if the pro-democracy movement persists and runs its course, it could still get root and branch, a fully representative system, liberated from the suffocating shadow of its military, which has manoeuvred Egypt's destiny since Gemal Abdel Nasser's Free Officers Revolution of 1952.

Mr. Mubarak's unceremonious exit has generated a fierce debate about the still uncharted road that the “revolution” should pursue. Some influential voices are even calling for an end to the uprising, trusting the Supreme Council of Armed Forces — now running the show — including its top boss Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, a long serving Mubarak-loyalist, to take Egypt forward.

Pro-military stand

Foremost among those who want to head home is Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who has emerged as the poster boy of the mainstream western media. Within hours of Mr. Mubarak's exit, when embers of the fiery celebrations at Tahrir Square were still aglow, Mr. Ghonim tweeted that Egyptians should get back to work. This sounded like treachery to many battle hardened protesters who wanted to head from Tahrir Square to farms and factories in support of Egypt's embattled working class.

In his next intervention in cyberspace, shortly after he had met two senior military officers — Major-General Mahmoud Hijazi and Major-General Abdel Fattah — on Monday, Mr. Ghonim seemed to confirm his unreserved faith in the military. “We all sensed a sincere desire to preserve the gains of the revolution and unprecedented respect for the right of young people to express their views,” he said.

Contrary to Mr. Ghonim's exhortations, a much-wider section of the youth wants to keep the agitation on hold to allow the military to announce key reforms within a tight February 18 timeline. After meeting the military top brass on Monday, Ahmed Maher, the leader of the April 6 youth movement, said: “We told them [the military] that if by Friday our demands were not met, we will resume the revolution.”

The April 6 movement is part of a wider “Coalition of Young Revolutionaries”, which has representatives from the Muslim Brotherhood Youth and the young guns deputed by Mohamed ElBaradei, the pro-democracy leader.

For more protests

While not disputing the coalition's demands, there is another component of the youth movement that wants protests to continue, focusing on supporting the already mobilised workers, who through a rash of industrial shrikes have begun to rock large parts of Egypt.

Advocates of this view include activist Gigi Ibrahim, a strong believer in a “bottom up” democracy, which she says must spiral upwards from the grassroots, free from the influence of the military

Despite the strong indigenous roots of the pro-democracy movement, those who want the movement to flourish have begun to wonder if, in the post-Mubarak phase, a strong inspiration from experiences abroad has begun to creep in.

It is well acknowledged that the Egyptian youth movement in its formative stage had been strongly influenced by the Serbian youth movement, Optor, whose role was indispensible in bringing down the Serbian dictator, Slobodan Milosevic. The New York Times also cites the influence on the Egyptian uprising of the Qatar-based Academy of Change, run by a group of young Egyptian expatriates.

The Internet also allowed activists in Egypt to benefit from the operational experience, including facing teargas barrages, from Tunisian activists, who had only recently successfully toppled the Ben Ali dictatorship.

Keywords: Egypt situation

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