The second day of unprecedented public protests in Egypt revealed a regime determined to prevent a snowballing of popular protest like the uprising that swept Tunisia's Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from power earlier this month.
Hundreds of activists were arrested and beatings were handed out to the smaller numbers of protesters out on the streets of Cairo and at least one other city. Jack Shenker of The Guardian has a gripping account of being caught up in a riot police sweep through downtown Cairo last night that well illustrates what protesters are facing, and what they'll continue to face if they keep pressing for the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.
It's hard to see Mubarak stepping down in the face of these protests. He has ruthlessly faced down challenges in the past, all indications are that the military and the police remain squarely behind him, and the circle of people whose prosperity and power relies on his regime is wide.
But I'm beginning to wonder if the elite around the 82-year-old Mubarak will be able to bring themselves to support him -- or his son Gamal -- in presidential elections scheduled for next September. While it was no secret that the Mubaraks were unpopular with their own people, the visible fury against them in the past few days is likely giving players in the ruling National Democratic Party and the military establishment pause about extending Mubarak rule to 35 years (Hosni's 30th anniversary in office comes shortly before the election.)
Consider this video of an angry, gleeful crowd trampling posters of the president outside of a train station yesterday (H/T 3Arabawy, who has dozens of videos on his site from the past two days and is blogging furiously):
Egypt's power elite, particularly senior officers in a military built more to confront internal dissent than repel external threats, are famously opaque. I certainly don't have a line into what they're really thinking. But they're seeing these videos just like we are. Some of them are probably considering a new face to preserve an old system.
The presidential election places a "democratic" gloss over a rigged process. The outcome will be predetermined, barring a stunning success for Egyptian protesters and other regime opponents in the coming months. Put yourself in the shoes of a politically-connected Egyptian businessman, or a General interested in stability and continuity. Wouldn't videos like the below from Alexandria have you considering your options?