You wait years for a revolution, and then two turn up at once. With the revolutionary process at an earlier stage than Tunisia, Egypt nevertheless stands on the brink.
At the time of writing Hosni Mubarak's regime is looking very shaky indeed. The excellent coverage on Al Jazeera this evening has broadcast images of the National Democratic Party's Cairo headquarters being looted and then torched without any kind of intervention from the security forces (simultaneously, protesters are apparently protecting the the priceless artifacts housed in the Egyptian Museum, making attempts by the BBC to portray them as "a mob" look lazy and unsustainable). Evening news broadcasts on terrestrial channels have shown footage of protesters and riot police squaring up and fighting running battles earlier in the day. But now, Al Jazeera is saying the police have left the streets and been replaced by the army. Again, like Tunisia, the army were welcomed by some sections of the uprising as a power that will protect them from the regime. On the other hand, as troops approach strategic infrastructure (TV and radio stations, security apparatus ministries) the protesters are giving the military's an increasingly frosty reception.
Again, as with Tunisia the army can play a Bonapartist role in the Marxist sense of the term. According to Ibrahim Arafat of Qatar University, the army and the rest of the security apparatus are institutionally separated in the Tunisian and Egyptian dictatorships. Because the military played no overt role in the day-to-day repression of the two regimes it could appear as an entity standing above and apart from the rest of society, in a manner analogous to Britain's constitutional monarchy's relationship to mainstream politics. Therefore it can pose as the repository of all manner of hopes and illusions - as guarantors of the constitution, as protecters of the nation, and so on. This institutional separation is the basis of an ideological cloak that hides the fact the military top brass are as much a part of the ancien regime as Ben Ali's and Mubarak's secret police henchmen.
Nevertheless the army is not immune from the forces demolishing the regime's foundations. The army is overwhelmingly working class in composition. The military brass value their own necks. This underlines the main question: which direction will the army swing? Will they dampen down the protests and obey the president's increasingly desperate decrees, or refuse to carry out his orders? And if so, what role will it go onto play in a post-Mubarak society?
With any luck, Hosni Mubarak will follow the footsteps of his son and hightail it out on a plane. I wouldn't be surprised if an underling's already been on the phone to the retirement home for washed-up despots in Saudi Arabia. In the mean time not only will other North African and Middle Eastern dictatorships and monarchies be biting their fingernails, the USA itself will be concerned for its strategic interests. Along with Israel and Saudi Arabia, Egypt is the third key US regional ally. The protesters are fully aware the self-proclaimed champion of democracy and universal human rights have been training and supplying the security apparatus for many years. And US planners know one mistaken step could see their carefully-crafted geopolitical strategy unravel as quickly as Mubarak's legitimacy.
NB: Excerpts of a translated Egyptian protest manual are available here, and follow the uprising's Twitter topic here.