Army pledges to allow protests as Egyptians mass in Tahrir Square
In a move that seemed to embolden the opposition's 'million man march' on Tahrir Square, the Egyptian Army recognized 'the legitimacy of the people's demands.'
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Protesters have given the Army a relatively warm reception ever since it deployed in Cairo and other Egyptian cities last Friday night. After four days of violent street clashes between widely despised riot police and plainclothes security agents that left at least 100 dead, the Army was welcomed with cheers and flowers.Skip to next paragraph
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Soldiers did little to prevent protesters climbing on their tanks, and scrawling antiregime graffiti all across them. Painted with words “Down with Mubarak” and “Down with the traitor,” these symbols of state power were transformed into billboards for regime change.
Analysts say the constant exposure of Egyptian soldiers to the noisy complaints of their compatriots – and to the energy and determination of the mass protests – is making the armed forces less capable of cracking down hard, if the order ever came.
“Whenever you have an army broken up in little fragmentary pieces like we’re seeing, spread all over the place, it immediately loses a certain amount of cohesion,” says Wayne White, a former State Department analyst now at the Middle East Institute in Washington.
“These guys are getting tired. They’re not used to sitting in their tank or their [armored personnel carrier], day after day and night after night, out in a street,” says Mr. White. “They are cut-off from what they are normally used to … and when you add to that the distractions of living amongst large numbers of people … their willingness and their ability to act [at the unit level] is degrading.”
Low-ranking soldiers almost certainly share many of the complaints of their fellow Egyptians. White learned that first-hand while working with young Egyptian officers as a member of the US Sinai Field Mission in 1978-1979.
Most of them “didn’t identify with the Army, and shared all the grievances that were floating around Cairo at the time – no matter who you talked to – whether it was a taxi driver, a shopkeeper,” recalls White. “I was hearing all the griping [from soldiers], just like in the general population, so why should it be any different now?”
“They don’t want to be out on the street,” adds White, regarding the Egyptian Army today. “Many of them have the same grievances as the people in the crowd, with families who are struggling, and [are] angry that Mubarak created this situation that put them on the street.”