Violence overshadows new Egyptian cabinet; seven killed


Seven people were killed and more than 260 wounded when Islamist supporters of Mohamed Morsi fought opponents of the deposed Egyptian president and security forces, marking a return of violence that overshadowed the naming of an interim cabinet.

Egyptian authorities rounded up more than 400 people over the fighting which raged through the night into Tuesday, nearly two weeks after the army removed Morsi in response to mass demonstrations against him.

Interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi is forming a government to lead Egypt through a “road map” to restore full civilian rule and to tackle a chaotic economy.

A spokesman for the interim president said Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood had been offered cabinet posts and would participate in the transition. The Brotherhood, Egypt's leading Islamist movement, dismissed the remarks as lies, saying it would never yield its demand for Morsi's return.

Crisis in the Arab world's most populous state, which straddles the Suez Canal and has a strategic peace treaty with Israel, raises alarm for its allies in the region and the West.

Morsi's removal has bitterly divided Egypt, with thousands of his supporters maintaining a vigil in a Cairo square to demand his return, swelling to tens of thousands for mass demonstrations every few days.

Two people were killed at a bridge in central Cairo where police and local Morsi opponents clashed with some of his supporters who were blocking a route across the River Nile overnight. Another five were killed in the Cairo district of Giza, said the head of emergency services, Mohamed Sultan.

Morsi is being held incommunicado at an undisclosed location. He has not been charged with any crime but the authorities say they are investigating him over complaints of inciting violence, spying and wrecking the economy.

CALM SHATTERED

A week of relative calm had suggested peace might be returning, but that was shattered by the street battles into the early hours of Tuesday morning, the bloodiest since more than 50 Morsi supporters were killed a week ago.

“We were crouched on the ground, we were praying. Suddenly there was shouting. We looked up and the police were on the bridge firing tear gas down on us,” said pro-Morsi protester Adel Asman, 42, who was coughing, spitting and pouring Pepsi on his eyes to ease the effect of tear gas.

The new cabinet is mainly made up of technocrats and liberals, with an emphasis on resurrecting an economy wrecked by two and a half years of turmoil.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait – rich Gulf Arab states happy at the downfall of the Brotherhood – have promised a total of $12 billion in cash, loans and fuel.

Investors do not expect major reforms before a permanent government is put in place. The new planning minister, Ashraf al-Arabi, said on Monday that the Arab money would sustain Egypt through its transition and it did not need to restart talks with the International Monetary Fund on a stalled emergency loan.

Egypt had sought $4.8 billion in IMF aid last year, but months of talks ran aground with the government unable to agree on cuts in unaffordable subsidies for food and fuel. Arabi's comments could worry investors who want the IMF to prod reform.

Ahmed Elmoslmany, spokesman for interim President Adli Mansour, said the authorities expected the Brotherhood and other Islamists to agree to participate in national reconciliation and had offered them positions in the interim cabinet.

“I am hoping and expecting, and I am in contact with members from the Muslim Brotherhood, and I can see there is an acceptance to the idea,” he said.

But senior Brotherhood figure Mohamed El-Beltagi said the movement had not been offered posts, and would reject them if it had. “We will not see reconciliation unless it's on the basis of ending the military coup,” Beltagi said at a square near a Cairo mosque where thousands of Morsi supporters have maintained a vigil into its third week.

BURNS SPURNED?

By sunrise calm had returned. The unrest is more localized than in the days after Morsi was toppled when 92 people died, but Egyptians still worry about the continued unrest.

At Tahrir Square, rallying point for anti-Morsi protesters, a Reuters reporter saw teenagers in civilian T-shirts being handed rifles by troops in an armored vehicle. It was not clear if they were civilians or security personnel in plain clothes.

The violence took place on the last night of a two-day visit by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, the first senior Washington official to arrive since the army's takeover.

Washington, which supports Egypt with $1.5 billion a year mainly for its military, has so far avoided saying whether it regards the military action as a “coup”, language that would require it to halt aid.

The United States was never comfortable with the rise of Morsi's Brotherhood but had defended his legitimacy as Egypt's first elected leader. Its position has attracted outrage from both sides, which accuse it of meddling in Egypt's affairs.

“Only Egyptians can determine their future,” Burns told reporters at the U.S. embassy on Monday. “I did not come with American solutions. Nor did I come to lecture anyone. We will not try to impose our model on Egypt.”

The Islamist Nour Party and the Tamarud anti-Morsi protest movement both said they turned down invitations to meet Burns. A senior State Department official denied Burns had been shunned.

“I don't think we're losing influence at all,” the U.S. official said. “I don't know what meetings he has, but he has seen a range of people in Cairo in the interim government, in civil society … so it's hard to say he has been spurned by both sides. I don't accept that is the case.”

At the bridge in the early hours, young men, their mouths covered to protect them from tear gas, threw stones at police and shouted pro-Morsi and anti-military slogans, as well as “Allahu Akbar!” (God is greatest).

Military helicopters hovered overhead and police vans were brought in to quell the trouble. When that didn't work, dozens of riot police moved in. Medics treated men with deep gashes to their eyes and faces nearby.

“It's the army against the people, these are our soldiers, we have no weapons,” said Alaa el-Din, a 34-year-old computer engineer, clutching a laptop during the melee. “The army turned against the Egyptian people.”

Many of the top Brotherhood figures have been charged with inciting violence, but have not been arrested and are still at large. The public prosecutors' office announced new charges against seven Brotherhood and Islamist leaders on Monday.

The fast-paced army-backed “road map” to full civilian rule calls for a new constitution to be hammered out within weeks and put to a referendum, followed by parliamentary elections in about six months and a presidential vote soon after.

A former ambassador to the United States has been named foreign minister and a U.S.-educated economist is finance minister. A police general was put in charge of the supply ministry, responsible for the huge distribution system for state-subsidized food and fuel.

A musician was named culture minister, an appointment with symbolic overtones: she had been head of the Cairo Opera until she was fired by Morsi's Islamist government two weeks ago, prompting artists and intellectuals to besiege the ministry.

Additional reporting by Tom Finn, Yasmine Saleh, Edmund Blair, Alexander Dziadosz, Shadia Nasralla, Ali Abdelaty, Omar Fahmy, Peter Graff, Patrick Werr and Mike Collett-White in Cairo, Yusri Mohamed in Ismailia and Lesley Wroughton in Washington; Writing by Mike Collett-White and Peter Graff; editing by David Stamp

Iran says Egyptian army interference is ‘unacceptable’


Iran on Monday called the Egyptian army's ousting of president Mohamed Morsi “unacceptable” and said Israel and the West did not want to see a powerful Egypt.

The comments from Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Araqchi were more disapproving than his immediate reaction last Thursday, when he merely called for the Egyptian people's “legitimate demands” to be fulfilled.

Iran welcomed the popular overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, calling it an “Islamic awakening” inspired in part by its own 1979 revolution, and after Morsi's election victory last year it sought to repair its strained ties with Egypt.

However, the two countries now have found themselves supporting opposite sides in the civil war in Syria. While Shi'ite Iran is President Bashar al-Assad's closest Arab ally, largely Sunni Muslim Egypt under Morsi has voiced its support for the mostly Sunni rebel groups seeking to overthrow Assad.

On Monday, Araqchi said: “What is important is giving significance to the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people,” according to the Mehr news agency.

“However, military intervention in politics is unacceptable and a cause for concern.”

Araqchi warned against greater divisions in Egyptian society, adding: “Certainly foreign hands are also at work, and … the West and the Zionist regime (Israel) will not want a powerful Egypt.”

Several dozen people were killed on Monday when Islamist demonstrators enraged by the Morsi's overthrow said the army opened fire on them at the Cairo barracks where he was being held. The military said a group of armed assailants had tried to storm the compound and soldiers returned fire.

Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Jon Hemming and Kevin Liffey

Protests after “Pharaoh” Morsi assumes powers in Egypt


Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi's decision to assume sweeping powers caused fury amongst his opponents and prompted violent clashes in central Cairo and other cities on Friday.

Police fired tear gas near Cairo's Tahrir Square, heart of the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak, where thousands demanded Morsi quit and accused him of launching a “coup”. There were violent protests in Alexandria, Port Said and Suez.

Opponents accused Morsi, who has issued a decree that puts his decisions above legal challenge until a new parliament is elected, of being the new Mubarak and hijacking the revolution.

“The people want to bring down the regime,” shouted protesters in Tahrir, echoing a chant used in the uprising that forced Mubarak to step down. “Get out, Morsi,” they chanted, along with “Mubarak tell Morsi, jail comes after the throne.”

Morsi's aides said the presidential decree was intended to speed up a protracted transition that has been hindered by legal obstacles but Morsi's rivals condemned him as an autocratic pharaoh who wanted to impose his Islamist vision on Egypt.

“I am for all Egyptians. I will not be biased against any son of Egypt,” Morsi said on a stage outside the presidential palace, adding that he was working for social and economic stability and the rotation of power.

“Opposition in Egypt does not worry me, but it has to be real and strong,” he said, seeking to placate his critics and telling Egyptians that he was committed to the revolution. “Go forward, always forward … to a new Egypt.”

Buoyed by accolades from around the world for mediating a truce between Hamas and Israel in the Gaza Strip, Morsi on Thursday ordered that an Islamist-dominated assembly writing the new constitution could not be dissolved by legal challenges.

“Morsi a 'temporary' dictator,” was the headline in the independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm.

Morsi, an Islamist whose roots are in the Muslim Brotherhood, also gave himself wide powers that allowed him to sack the unpopular general prosecutor and opened the door for a retrial for Mubarak and his aides.

The president's decree aimed to end the logjam and push Egypt, the Arab world's most populous nation, more quickly along its democratic path, the presidential spokesman said.

“President Morsi said we must go out of the bottleneck without breaking the bottle,” Yasser Ali told Reuters.

TURBULENCE AND TURMOIL

The president's decree said any decrees he issued while no parliament sat could not be challenged, moves that consolidated his power but look set to polarize Egypt further, threatening more turbulence in a nation at the heart of the Arab Spring.

The turmoil has weighed heavily on Egypt's faltering economy that was thrown a lifeline this week when a preliminary deal was reached with the International Monetary Fund for a $4.8 billion loan. But it also means unpopular economic measures.

In Alexandria, north of Cairo, protesters ransacked an office of the Brotherhood's political party, burning books and chairs in the street. Supporters of Morsi and opponents clashed elsewhere in the city, leaving 12 injured.

A party building was also attacked by stone-throwing protesters in Port Said, and demonstrators in Suez threw petrol bombs that burned banners outside the party building.

Morsi's decree is bound to worry Western allies, particularly the United States, a generous benefactor to Egypt's army, which praised Egypt for its part in bringing Israelis and Palestinians to a ceasefire on Wednesday.

The West may become concerned about measures that, for example, undermine judicial independence. The European Union urged Morsi to respect the democratic process.

“We are very concerned about the possible huge ramifications of this declaration on human rights and the rule of law in Egypt,” Rupert Colville, spokesman for the U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay, said at the United Nations in Geneva.

The United States has been concerned about the fate of what was once a close ally under Mubarak, who preserved Egypt's 1979 peace treaty with Israel. The Gaza deal has reassured Washington but the deepening polarization of the nation will be a worry.

“ANOTHER DICTATOR”

“The decree is basically a coup on state institutions and the rule of law that is likely to undermine the revolution and the transition to democracy,” said Mervat Ahmed, an independent activist in Tahrir protesting against the decree. “I worry Morsi will be another dictator like the one before him.”

Leading liberal Mohamed ElBaradei, who joined other politicians on Thursday night to demand the decree was withdrawn, wrote on his Twitter account that Morsi had “usurped all state powers and appointed himself Egypt's new pharaoh”.

Almost two years after Mubarak was toppled and about five months since Morsi took office, propelled to the post by the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt has no permanent constitution, which must be in place before new parliamentary elections are held.

The last parliament, which sat for the first time earlier this year, was dissolved after a court declared it void. It was dominated by the Brotherhood's political party.

An assembly drawing up the constitution has yet to complete its work. Many liberals, Christians and others have walked out accusing the Islamists who dominate it of ignoring their voices over the extent that Islam should be enshrined in the new state.

Opponents call for the assembly to be scrapped and remade. Morsi's decree protects the existing one and extends the deadline for drafting a document by two months, pushing it back to February, further delaying a new parliamentary election.

Explaining the rationale behind the moves, the presidential spokesman said: “This means ending the period of constitutional instability to arrive at a state with a written constitution, an elected president and parliament.”

“THIS IS NOT THE REMEDY”

Analyst Seif El Din Abdel Fatah said the decree targeted the judiciary which had reversed, for example, an earlier Morsi decision to remove the prosecutor.

Morsi, who is now protected by his new decree from judicial reversals, said the judiciary contained honorable men but said he would uncover corrupt elements. He also said he would ensure independence for the judicial, executive and legislative powers.

Although many of Morsi's opponents also opposed the sacked prosecutor, whom they blamed for shortcomings in prosecuting Mubarak and his aides, and also want judicial reform, they say a draconian presidential decree was not the way to do it.

“There was a disease but this is not the remedy,” said Hassan Nafaa, a liberal-minded political science professor and activist at Cairo University.

Additional reporting by Tom Miles in Geneva and Sebastian Moffett in Brussels; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Peter Millership and Giles Elgood

Tahrir reprise throws down gauntlet to Egypt army


The chants, tear gas and violence emanating from Cairo’s Tahrir Square evoke the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak. Protesters talk of a fight to the death with the ruling military council, whose entire transition plan looks shakier than ever.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces may take some comfort from the scale of the protests, which in the past four days have yet to attract the hundreds of thousands who turned out against Mubarak in January and February.

Yet activists resisting efforts to dislodge them from Tahrir are voicing defiance reminiscent of the height of the 18-day uprising that unseated Egypt’s longtime ruler.

Their passions inflamed by the deaths of at least 33 people since Saturday, they show no signs of leaving. There are calls for a bigger protest on Tuesday. A protracted standoff could put at risk elections planned to begin on November 28.

On Monday, crowds chanted “the people want the downfall of the regime,” the main refrain of the anti-Mubarak protest. Some said they were ready to die for their cause, sentiments also often heard during demonstrations in February.

And there were flashes of the volunteer spirit that was vital to the successful uprising against Mubarak.

Youths on motor bikes ferried those wounded in clashes with the security forces to makeshift clinics. Others formed human corridors to clear the way. Medics treated the casualties on the pavement, while volunteers swept away rubbish.

It wasn’t the first time the spirit of the original uprising had returned. Large protests in July are widely credited with prompting the military council to put Mubarak on trial.

What sets this protest apart is the level of the bloodshed blamed on the security forces, which could inflame unrest, just as it did in the last days of the Mubarak era.

“A LOT OF KILLING”

“I came because I saw the situation on the TV. There’s a lot of killing,” said Hussam Mohammad, a 22-year-old history student, among a crowd that had grown from thousands to tens of thousands by late afternoon.

“The thing you can take from all of this is that revolution is still going on. It reminds me exactly of January 25,” he said, referring to the day the anti-Mubarak protests erupted.

Among the Tahrir Square activists, anger has mounted over the way the ruling military council has governed Egypt. The protesters believe the generals are trying to hold onto power and privilege, undermining hopes for real democratic change.

“If people go home now, the whole revolution will have been for nothing,” said Abdou Kassem, a youth activist who had been leading the chants atop the shoulders of other demonstrators.

He pulled from his pocket a bird shot pellet which he said security forces had fired at demonstrators. “Morale is very high,” he smiled, pointing out wounds to his face and leg.

Tuesday’s turnout will likely help shape the military’s next step. A poor showing could encourage it to try to clear the square by force. A large crowd may deter a harsh crackdown.

Not all the Egyptians in the square on Monday were there to protest. As always, some were there merely to watch. Others were urging the protesters to go home. Others, on the fringes, played a more sinister role, provoking violence or looting buildings.

While the activists are confident of popular support for their street action, beyond Tahrir there is more doubt.

Some Egyptians say the activists should be more patient and give respite to an economy battered by a year of political turmoil. They see the elections for a new legislature due to start on November 28 as the first step on the road toward the return of civilian government promised by the military.

“The silent majority now are not the same as the silent majority of January 25. Now, they are not with the Tahrir crowd. Why? Because there are positive steps being implemented,” said Mustafa Ibrahim, 31, from the town of Tanta north of Cairo.

“They must be patient,” he said.

Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Alistair Lyon

Egypt uprising carries echoes of Poland’s Solidarity movement 30 years ago


The day after Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak was ousted by a widespread public uprising, I found myself presenting a lecture about Solidarity, the mass trade union movement that convulsed Poland 30 years ago and paved the way for the collapse of the Iron Curtain a decade later.

It also helped land me in jail in 1983, eventually resulting in my expulsion from Poland.

I had covered Solidarity—Solidarnosc in Polish—as a correspondent for United Press International, and my lecture came at the opening of an exhibition at Yale University about the dramatic strikes and public protests that gave birth to the movement in August 1980.

It got me thinking about people power—its nature and the long, complex reach of its legacy.

The so-called Polish August was the first mass protest movement to achieve some success in challenging Communist rule in Eastern Europe.

When the strikes broke out, the Communists had been in power in Poland since the late 1940s—similar to the length of Hosni Mubarak’s tenure. And as in Egypt, the protests forced radical changes in less than three weeks.

But freedom and democracy were by no means the automatic outcome of what seemed at the moment a victory; indeed, what’s happening in Egypt, and elsewhere in the Middle East, is still very much in flux.

Thousands of workers went on strike at the Gdansk Shipyard on Aug. 14, 1980. The walkout was sparked by the firing of crane operator Anna Walentynowicz, a longtime dissident worker activist.

Her dismissal was really just the straw that broke the camel’s back. Hikes in food prices and other economic hardships, as well as heavy-handed political and social repression, were behind the discontent, and over the years there had been sporadic failed attempts to challenge the regime.

This time, circumstances were different.

For one thing, the election of Polish Cardinal Karol Wojtyla as Pope John Paul II in 1978 had galvanized the nation and instilled a sense of national pride. When John Paul triumphantly returned home to visit in 1979, millions of Poles turned out to greet him as a national hero.

Strikes and protests spread across Poland within days of the Gdansk Shipyard walkout. Prayers and outdoor masses in the overwhelmingly Catholic country were a key part of the protests.

Significantly, too, workers and strike leaders formed an unprecedented strategic alliance with dissident intellectuals. Their list of 21 demands included labor reforms but also freedom of expression, freedom of religion and other civil rights.

These formed the basis of the Gdansk Agreement, a landmark social accord eventually signed on Aug. 31, 1980 by the charismatic strike leader Lech Walesa and a senior government representative. Walesa used a jumbo souvenir pen that bore a likeness of John Paul II.

Five days leader, the Polish Communist Party axed its longtime leader, Edward Gierek.

Various commentators have compared the events in Egypt with the fall of communism across Eastern Europe in 1989-90. The comparison is valid—and perhaps increasingly so, given the spreading protests across the Middle East.

But in some ways the Polish August and the birth of Solidarity may be a more telling comparison, at least for now. As with Egypt, the Polish August was a huge global news story that sparked ecstatic heights of optimism, exhilaration and punditry. And as with the Egyptian uprising, it took us into utterly uncharted waters: No one really knew where it was all going to lead.

Confidence and expectations were high, but martial law crushed Solidarity less than a year-and-a-half after the Gdansk Agreement was signed. The movement was banned, hundreds of Solidarity leaders and activists were jailed, censorship was re-imposed and harsh controls were put in place.

In January 1983, I myself was arrested, accused of espionage, jailed, interrogated and expelled from Poland because of my journalistic activity—apparently as a warning to both the international media and local Polish contacts.

Martial law, however, did not stop the process begun with the Polish August.

Dissent and efforts to foster civil society went underground, where they continued to build momentum as deteriorating economic conditions fueled mounting popular anger.

In Warsaw, for example, young Jews who tentatively had begun rediscovering their roots and religious heritage met in a semi-clandestine Jewish study group they called the Jewish Flying University because each meeting took place in a different apartment.

It took nearly eight years, but in 1989 round-table negotiations between the underground opposition and the government enabled a peaceful transition to democratic rule.

The images on the panels of the Solidarnosc exhibit at Yale this winter portray events that happened more than 30 years ago, but the pictures look uncannily similar to the images of the protests in Egypt. They show huge crowds, banners, slogans and confrontations between protesters and authorities.

Much has been made of the role of the social media in Egypt. Back in 1980, however, there were no social media. There was no Twitter, no Facebook, no mobile phones, no Internet, no e-mail, no 24/7-hour news cycle (except for us wire service folks). CNN was the only cable news network, and it had only just been founded.

The government, moreover, cut communications between Gdansk and Warsaw during the August strikes, so that in order to file their stories, some reporters actually commuted back and forth between the two cities on domestic flights. Information was carried by word of mouth or clandestine Samizdat newsletters, or shortwave broadcasts on the BBC or Radio Free Europe.

Still, word got out. Protests engulfed a nation and all but brought down a hated regime.

If enough people want to create change, they will, Twitter or not.

One image in the Yale exhibition shows the enormous sea of people gathered in downtown Warsaw to celebrate outdoor Mass with Pope John Paul II in 1979.

“I was in that crowd,” Polish-born Yale professor Krystyna Illakowicz told me. “I remember feeling that we were not afraid any longer.”

(Ruth Ellen Gruber’s books include “National Geographic Jewish Heritage Travel: A Guide to Eastern Europe,” and “Virtually Jewish: Reinventing Jewish Culture in Europe.” She blogs on Jewish heritage issues at http://jewish-heritage-travel.blogspot.com. She is currently a scholar in residence at the Hadassah Brandeis Institute.)

First Tunisia, then Egypt: Which Mideast autocracy will be next to fall?


With popular uprisings having toppled two Arab dictators in the space of just a few weeks and unrest reverberating across the Middle East, are other regimes likely to fall, too?

Nearly everywhere in the region, autocratic leaders seem to be on the defensive. Using carrots or sticks, and sometimes both, they’re struggling to curb growing protest movements.

In Jordan two weeks ago, amid spreading protests, King Abdullah II dismissed his prime minister and Cabinet, promising reforms. In the Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain, police countered protesters’ “Day of Rage” this week with rubber bullets and tear gas, while the king tried to defuse opposition by promising a $2,650 payment of “appreciation” to every Bahraini family. In Kuwait, too, the ruling emir announced cash grants to every citizen.

In Iran this week, government forces used violence to block demonstrators from massing in main squares, despite Tehran’s rhetorical support for the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. In Yemen and Algeria, protesters and police battled in the streets. In the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority announced that it would hold long-overdue parliamentary and presidential elections by September, and this week the PA prime minister dismissed his Cabinet.

Long a mostly impotent force in Arab politics, the Arab street suddenly has discovered its power, and it’s ushering in change from Tunis to Amman—not to mention fraying nerves in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

“Activists in other countries are trying to use the example of Egypt and Tunisia to mobilize large numbers of people to the streets,” said David Siddhartha Patel, a political scientist at Cornell University.

Despite the spreading protests, experts cautioned against predicting the collapse of additional regimes. While the Arab street has drawn lessons from Egypt and Tunisia, so have their autocratic rulers.

“Will people demonstrate and protest? Yes,” said Barry Rubin, an Israeli scholar at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center’s program of Global Research in International Affairs. “Will people overthrow governments? I think the answer is no.”

In Israel, the sudden change in Egypt has ignited a sharp debate along partisan lines about lessons to be learned and the efficacy of peacemaking with the Arab world.

“The right wing says you cannot really negotiate agreements with Arabs because the agreements will not be kept because their states are not stable,” said retired Israeli Brig.-Gen Shlomo Brom, an expert on Arab politics at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. “The left will say, the lesson is that because of the instability of the Middle East, we should be interested in minimizing friction between us and the Arab world by having ongoing negotiations for peace.”

The calculus for every country is different, and the elements that made for the success of Egypt’s uprising were a uniquely combustible combination that may not transfer elsewhere.

High unemployment, a yawning rich-poor gap, widespread government corruption and deteriorating quality-of-life metrics made Hosni Mubarak almost universally despised in his country, uniting Islamists and secularists in opposition. Egypt faced a looming succession crisis that undermined the legitimacy of the 82-year-old president, who wanted to hand over power to his son, Gamal.

Once the protests began in earnest, Egypt’s government, which receives $1.3 billion in annual U.S. aid, was subject to American pressure on how to confront the demonstrators. Perhaps most significant, the Egyptian army opted to side with the protesters over the regime, declining to use violence against the people and essentially turning what had begun as a popular uprising into a military coup.

That stands in stark contrast to Iran, which put down mass protests a year-and-a-half ago following the disputed re-election of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The key state security forces did the government’s bidding at the time, and with gusto: They beat and shot demonstrators, jailed dissenters and executed organizers.

This time, the regime is making sure that mass protests never materialize by choking off main arteries leading to central squares, deploying hundreds of riot officers and banning marches in solidarity with the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.

Already pariahs in the West, Tehran’s rulers have little to hold them back from unleashing the full might of their security apparatus to stay in power.

“The Iranian regime acted decisively early on, using security forces ruthlessly against the opposition, unlike Mubarak who hesitated and vacillated,” said Manochehr Dorraj, an Iran expert at Texas Christian University. “In Iran, the use of the security forces put shivers in the heart of the demonstrators who knew that they might be killed or executed. And because Iran has oil and gas reserves, it could afford to act autonomously and ignore public opinion and take that defiant posture.”

Likewise in Syria, the state security services moved firmly to stifle budding protests, scaring potential opponents into submission through arrests, intimidation and a zero-tolerance policy even for small protest gatherings. Furthermore, the broad popular discontent that fueled the Egyptian protests is less salient in Syria, where quality-of-life measures have improved in recent years under Bashar Assad.

Syria and Iran have another card to play when it comes to staunching opposition.

“Their anti-U.S. and anti-Israel posture lends them the claim that whoever rises against them are agents of the U.S. and Israel,” Dorraj said. “This was not available to Mubarak.”

Algeria in many ways looks similar to Egypt, with broad disaffection for the government of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, youth-led protests gaining steam and widespread strikes. But Algeria’s army is unlikely to side with the people against the regime, many analysts say. The same goes for Algeria’s neighbor to the east, Muammar Gadhafi’s Libya, where dissidents called for a protest to take place Thursday in Tripoli.

Jordan, the only Arab country besides Egypt to have a peace treaty with Israel, is seen to be in a more vulnerable position. Its ruler hails from a minority group in a country whose population is mostly Palestinian. In recent weeks, even the native Jordanian tribes in the minority that comprise the king’s traditional power base went public with charges of corruption against Abdullah’s wife, Queen Rania. Also, the painful domestic effects of the global economic crisis have increased popular discontent in Jordan.

As protests—a recurring presence in the kingdom—gained steam following the unrest in Egypt, Abdullah moved quickly to announce political reforms, firing his government and installing a new, conservative Cabinet designed to placate Jordan’s powerful tribes. The moves, and the king’s relative popularity compared with Mubarak in Egypt, weigh in Abdullah’s favor.

“Here we see a difference between Jordan on the one hand and Iran and Syria on the other: Jordan made some concessions, where the governments of Iran and Syria will not give an inch,” Rubin observed.

“In Jordan, it’s different from Egypt and Tunisia—everybody likes the king,” Faisal Al-Rfouh, a former Jordanian culture minister and now a professor of political science at the University of Jordan, told JTA in an interview from Amman.

“There is no problem with the king, but with the corrupted government and corrupted people,” Al-Rfouh said. “We need to change from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy under the leadership of His Majesty the King.”

Perhaps the Middle Eastern country most vulnerable to revolution is Yemen, which like Mubarak’s Egypt is plagued by high poverty, unemployment, discontent with the regime led by President Ali Abdullah Saleh and, until a few days ago, a looming succession crisis.

Saleh has tried to use both sticks and carrots to quell protests, dispatching his security forces to put down protests while offering a host of concessions, including a pledge to relinquish power in 2013 and not install his son as successor.

Long ravaged by internal conflicts, Yemen is seen as a key front in the war against al-Qaeda and terrorism. If Saleh goes, it’s not clear that Yemen’s government will remain allied with the West against Islamic extremism.

The future of Yemen, like so much in the Middle East, remains uncertain.

“There is one lesson we can learn from the Tunisian and Egyptian cases,” Brom said. “That is that nobody is immune and there are strong limitations to our ability to make forecasts.”