The call has gone out for a million protesters to converge on the Israeli embassy on Sharia Ibn-el Maleck Street in Cairo this weekend to call for the expulsion of the ambassador over the killing of Egyptian soldiers by Israeli troops.
A million is the new benchmark for mass demonstrations sought after in this Facebook-organized era of popular protest culture sweeping the Arab world. By Thursday afternoon, only 73 people confirmed they would attend, yet the event has received enormous coverage in the Egyptian media and thousands are expected.
"The military will let this happen to blow off steam," a senior Israeli official, who asked not to be identified, told The Media Line. "But we are not concerned that there is any erosion in the [Egyptian] military leadership about the importance of keeping the peace treaty with us or that the military will allow ties with Israel to be harmed."
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which has been leading Egypt through this transition stage since the ouster of President Husni Mubarak and elections scheduled in the next several months, is caught in a double bind. The military establishment is enjoying unparalleled popular support, but the junta is highly uncomfortable with its role that has brought generals into the eye of the public and forced it to deal with political and economic issues normally outside their mandate.
Its actions since the January revolution have been mainly reactive. Observers says it has routinely bowed to public pressure and seems to be guided by no broader vision other than maintaining stability and returning the country to civilian rule as quickly as possible, however transformed that may be.
"The protest over the killing of Egyptian soldiers by Israel or the replacement of provincial governors is just some of the daily events that make noise. But the bottom line is that the military is overseeing the management of the state and the SCAF is dealing with the transition of power," Abdel Monem Said, president of the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told The Media Line.
Said said there is a near-complete consensus supporting the military and an overwhelming belief that the "troops will get back to their barracks and let the country rule itself."
Parliamentary elections are set for October with constitutional reform process following and presidential elections next year The generals have so far balked at allowing international monitoring of the elections, raising questions of how free they will be.
Analysts say that the military will make sure that its dominance of the government will not be diminished. While it has been reduced in recent decades, the general will maneuver to ensure their powers are enshrined in Egypt's new constitution. Some have even spoke of adopting a "Turkish model," under which the military acted as the guarantor of stability as Turkey moved toward a democracy.
"They have the Turkish army as a model in mind, but they understand and see what role the Turkish army is actually playing these days and how [Prime Minister Recep Tayyib] Erdogan has pushed aside the army from a place of influence the political arena," said Yoram Meital, director of the Herzog Center for Middle East Studies at Ben Gurion University.
The Egyptian military has played a major role in the Egyptian economy as well as in national security for decades. The belief among the higher echelons of the army is that they will continue to do so regardless of what form Egypt's new government takes.
"The army will continue to play a very significant role in almost everything to do with national security and this includes the strategic relationship with the United States and the peace treaty with Israel. This will remain exclusively in the hands of the army even after the transfer of power," Meital told The Media Line.
This line of thinking has been echoed in the hallways of Jerusalem government buildings and Tel Aviv's Defense Ministry this week where officials were expressing confidence that the 32-year-old peace treaty with Egypt would hold through to the next regime in Cairo.
This treaty has directly benefited the Egyptian military, which has received some $70 billion in military aid in the past 30 years. This money allowed the army to become a dramatically lean fighting machine with some of the world's most sophisticated weaponry, such as F-16s and Mirage 2000 fighter jets and M1 tanks, and the most robust navy in the eastern Mediterranean basin.
"The Egyptians aren't going to do anything to jeopardize that," said one senior official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Still, the recent deployment by the Egyptian military of more than 1,000 troops to quash Bedouin unrest in the Sinai has raised some concerns in Israel. Although completely coordinated, it does open the possibility of allowing a large number of forces dangerously close.
The danger of this became apparent on Aug. 18 when Palestinian infiltrators slipped past Egyptian border police and ambushed Israelis, killing eight. In the ensuing clash, Israeli forces killed five Egyptian servicemen. After initial hesitation, Israel made a public apology and sent senior officers to Cairo to smooth over tensions.
Regardless, the public became outraged and has protested ever since outside the Israeli embassy on Sharia Ibn-el Maleck Street. But analysts don't believe the peace treaty will fail.
"I don't think it will happen -- I am sure it will not happen --but it's not because the military's position will be that it won't let it happen. That would make Egypt a banana republic and that is not the case," said Said of the Al-Ahram Center.
SCAF is keen on protecting its institutional interest and is hardly vulnerable, yet, to challenges to its positions, regarding Israel in particular.
"The army doesn't want to go against public and fierce opinion, but even during the current crisis with Israel the army has made it very clear that the responsibility for security issues remain in their hands," said Meital.
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