|Egyptian soldiers restrain supporters of President Hosni Mubarak near Tahrir Square in Cairo [Reuters]
Al Jazeera's senior political analyst, Marwan Bishara, tries to decipher the reasons behind the escalation to violence, Mubarak's new strategy, and its chances for success.
Why did the army not intervene to stop the hooligans from attacking peaceful demonstrators?
Clearly, the Mubarak regime is trying to regain the initiative by either encouraging or directly spreading chaos, confusion and insecurity - in order to gain the middle ground as the guarantor of national security and stability, as well as to assert itself as the political arbitrator between pro- and anti-regime protest.
But while the regime has a major stake in chaos on the streets, it also seems to be working hard to organise and energise its public policy and defuse the protest sooner rather than later. So far, the new approach has been spearheaded by the two recent appointees, the new vice president and prime minister.
What's the new approach?
The regime is resorting to the old "good cop, bad cop" strategy to deal with the uprising and public opinion. Vice President Omar Suleiman rejects dialogue with opposition leaders of the uprising as the protest goes on, and many suspect that as the country's long-serving security chief, Suleiman, more likely than not, has been aware of or possibly micro-managing the regime's new sectarian approach and strategy of spreading chaos.
On the other hand, the new prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, appeared at his first press conference an apologetic, easy-going gentleman, ignorant of the reasons for the escalation to violence. He also appeared able to express the suffering of his country and communicate with the citizens, while promising to find out the loss of insecurity. Shafiq extended bridges to the opposition, underlining the need for an open mind and willingness to compromise. His apology, whether honest or superficial, doesn't explain why escalation to violence continued as he spoke during the press conference!
Is the regime's new strategy working?
The Mubarak regime is trying to limit the damage to its prestige and status domestically, while at the same time salvaging its terribly damaged reputation and credibility internationally. Mubarak's appeasement of the opposition by making a number of concessions and promises over the last couple of days was underlined today by his prime minister's repeated apology and new promises to extend a hand. Shafiq also emphasised the regime's need to talk to Western media as pressure builds up in international capitals for Mubarak to step down and start the transition to democracy "now". Paradoxically, as he sweet-talks the media, the government's security forces are arresting journalists and closing down their operations.
The last word, of course, will be for the street protest, and the revolution's momentum through Friday and beyond as Egypt's future is determined largely by the clash of wills between the regime and the uprising. A net zero-sum conflict whose results will be decided by who makes the last stand. If protest continues, no sweet-talking prime minister or scheming vice president will be able to overcome them. In fact, as the escalation continues turning violent by clients of the regime, the calls for Mubarak to step down are solely being replaced by calls for his prosecution as ultimately the "worst cop".