From the beginning of protests, analysts have held the Egyptian army as the high card in this conflict. The wisdom has held that as goes the army, so goes the fate of the people.
Early signs were encouraging: flowers handed out, citizens and soldiers praying, and finally the Army announcing that they would not fire on citizens.
While it might seem best that an authoritarian regime's army would keep hands off a democracy movement, the reality is that the Egypt's army cannot be passive. Egypt's security force includes regular police, plain clothes police, and a cadre of thugs hired for the overtly political occasions. It's not just the Army that has guns.
It is worrisome that an early announcement by the Army has now seemed to be set aside: specifically, the Egyptian army at first said that they were there to protect the people, but now soldiers on the street have indicated that they have no orders to protect protesters.
How can the Egyptian army be nudged into caring deeply for the fate of democracy protests?
The tanks on the street of Cairo are M1 Abrams. They were provided by the US, and the soldiers paychecks are directly dependent on US aid.
Generals like expensive toys, so why not threaten to take away next year's batch?
Egypt has a conscript army, so soldiers on the street could likely be sympathetic to the protesters. However, the professional officer corp is perhaps best swayed the consideration of their budget for the year 2012.
Mubarak is 82 and not exactly a swaggering authority figure by military standards. The scene has definitely been set for the Army to publicly announce that their loyalty to the Egyptian people overcomes any loyalty to the political apparatus being rejected by the people.
It doesn't need to be such an obvious gesture however...face can be saved.
Perhaps it's time to announce an "international aid package for the Egyptian people - with delivery coordinated through the Egyptian army or appropriate parties". We're talking food drops into the heart of the city - manna for protesters. With the Egyptian army actively participating in the delivery, the message will be clear that they are supporting the protesters. Mubarak will finally get the message.
Whatever word form it takes, the message must be clear: it's either democracy or no more toys. 1.3 billion does buy a lot of goodwill. And if it doesn't, all the more reason to withdraw it.
The US needs to precipitate things...as the chief rainmaker, Obama must make the Egyptian army look to him as a modern day 'bringer of chariots'.