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Army Steps In, Mubarak May Go

The Egyptian military, marked so far by its loyalty to civilian authority and its admirable discipline in obeying orders, appears to have intervened and taken control of the country. CIA Director Leon Panetta told the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak may leave office within hours.

"There's a strong likelihood that Mubarak may step down this evening, which would be significant in terms of where the, hopefully, orderly transition in Egypt takes place," Panetta said. Egyptian State Television has just reported that Mubarak will speak in the next few hours. He later said he was relying on press reports, not CIA intelligence, for that assessment.

The actions came as Egyptian crowds in Cairo's Liberation Square, roared, chanted, waved their country's flag and surged through the square as the sun set over the capital. Reports from Egypt were confused, with the Prime Minister claiming Mubarak remained in power but several military officials claiming that the military now led the country. There were reports that Mubarak wanted to speak to the country and announce that his vice president was taking power, but the military stopped him.

The next few weeks will be crucial to Egypt's future, as the nascent political forces of the Muslim Brotherhood, the existing political parties, the unions and the demonstrators throughout Egypt who have been in the vanguard pushing for change, all jockey for position under the gaze of the military. As someone who covered one of the most similar uprisings in the region -- the April 1985 uprising that toppled Sudanese strongman Jaafar Nimeiri -- I'd say the chances for what is certainly a popular uprising becoming a true revolution are relatively low. The intelligence forces remain intact, as does the military. Egyptians have so far shown little taste for violent confrontation, considering the enormous crowds that have swept the country. But what I call Clark's Theorem -- the longer a political power structure is artificially maintained in power, the greater will be the changes resulting once it cracks and power shifts -- would argue for substantial shifts in Egyptian political, economic and foreign policy over time.

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