Egypt prepares for a new era after Mubarak

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Egyptians woke to a new dawn on Saturday after the departure of President Hosni Mubarak, who resigned on Friday.

As the muezzins' calls to prayer reverberated across a misty Cairo, the sound of car horns honking in jubilation grew louder after a night when millions throughout the Arab world's most populous country joyfully celebrated the fall of the president.

However, it remained to be seen how the military would govern a country that traces its history back to the pharaohs more than 5,000 years ago - and that has seen such upheaval in an uprising that took just 18 days.

The first priority was law and order before the start of the working week, which begins on Sunday in Egypt. Army tanks and soldiers stayed on the streets guarding key intersections and government buildings after the disgraced police force melted away.

Now the change has presented a relatively clear roadmap for Egypt in the coming months, and the nation will be steered by the military during the transition period, said Yin Gang, an expert on Middle East studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).

"All the opposition parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood, need half a year to one year to gain strength and prepare for the general election. Everybody needs time," Yin said.

So a transition period is good for everything from democracy-building in Egypt to regional and world stability, he said.

As for Vice-President Omar Suleiman's role in the period, Yin said his position designated in Mubarak's resignation announcement is ambiguous and a vice-president named by Mubarak is likely to be ignored. But Yin said it's a good situation that Suleiman has a major role in the military surveillance.

"After all he has controlled intelligence and security departments of the country for nearly two decades," Yin said.

The military is now in charge in Egypt after the Supreme Council of the Egyptian Armed Forces took power on Friday. Suleiman is among the members of the council, with two-decade military chief and Defense Minister Mohammed Hussein Tantawi and armed forces chiefs of staff, air force, navy as well as commander of air defense.

"Both the military and the US are working hard for the best result, or the chaos in the most populous Arab country will be unimaginable," Yin said.

He said he believes the powerful Egyptian military is capable of reaching that aim.

The dramatic change on the Egyptian political arena on Friday signals foreign intervention, said Yin.

"Mubarak's sudden resignation goes against his remarks in the past several days. And (US President Barack) Obama's statement came right on the heels of Suleiman's announcement," Yin said.

"It's obviously a decision made by the Egyptian military and supported by Washington, that is the only reasonable explanation," he said.

Egypt's military is one of the world's largest recipients of US military aid, and this has created a close relationship between US and Egyptian military officials.

Yin said Mubarak is likely to be protected on the Sinai Peninsula in the future.

Mubarak, 82, was believed to be at his residence in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, his future unclear.

And in the eyes of the Egyptian military, keeping the former president under protection on the peninsula is in line with the nation's and their own interests, Yin said.

Ye Hailin, Yin's colleague at CASS, said the recent crisis in Egypt exposed the fact that Washington's control of situation in the Middle East has been weakened.

"Obama's stern attitude toward Mubarak is like beating a dead tiger, while discrepancies among various US departments on Egypt have been made public," Ye said.

And it will only be the start of a geopolitical rebuilding in the Middle East with the opposition Muslim Brotherhood getting a share in the country, Ye said.

Gong Shaopeng, professor of international politics at China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing, said a primary US interest in continuing good relations with Egypt is to take advantage of Egypt's historic leadership in the Arab world.

"Washington imposes its influence on the Middle East through several key countries, it used to be Iran but now it is Egypt," he said.

He said US policymakers are now facing complex questions on the future of US-Egypt relations and they are extremely cautious as a collapse of Egypt would mean that the US loses the region.

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