Turmoil in Egypt rages: Key questions and answers

Clashes between protesters and government supporters intensified Thursday in central Cairo and began to spread around the city. (Latest developments)

What can the United States do to influence Mubarak and the situation within Egypt?

American influence over President Hosni Mubarak and the situation in Egypt is often overstated. Withdrawing the aid could harm the Israel-Egypt equation and diminish influence with the military. Thus, the real influence that the United States has is through international opinion, focusing a spotlight on abuses and Egypt's fake democracy.

What are the likely scenarios if Mubarak stays or if he leaves?

President Mubarak was expected by many observers to transfer authority for his "political franchise" to his son, Gamal Mubarak, who is a senior official in the ruling National Democratic Party. Thus the question is not whether Hosni Mubarak leaves Egypt but whether the Mubarak political franchise, which his son has helped reinvigorate, holds on. If Mubarak remains in Egypt, it is likely that his own power will decline. If Mubarak leaves, then the military is likely to become the backbone of a caretaker government that puts forward a plan to broaden the number of political parties that can participate in government. Egyptian life is hard. People's lives are paralyzed — and much of Egypt either in the square or in the environs around Cairo and elsewhere in the country is surviving on the adrenaline of large doses of hope and fear. World wheat, corn, and basic staples prices are extremely high on global markets — and prices are spiking higher. The political stakes going on are also stakes that involve human and food security throughout the country.

Egypt's Vice President promised elections within 200 days. Nine days of protests have completely transformed Egypt's political landscape. That said, there is no evidence that left to their own devices Mubarak and the current government will allow free and fair elections. The more time Mubarak and current power brokers have in power, the more chance they may have to manipulate the political process. Who is behind the attacks on journalists and anti-Mubarak protesters?

The preponderance of evidence points to part of the current government. Previously, the National Democratic Party, the police, and the national army were all part of the same operation and were recognized as the government. Today, the army is purporting to be the backbone of and protector of the government — and the National Democratic Party and police seem to be arms of the Mubarak franchise, no longer "the government" per se.

Earlier today, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley announced that the situation in Egypt "was an intimidation campaign to scare journalists."

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