The world had hardly absorbed the fall of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia that it had to handle its most feared, yet most expected, fallout - the potential fall of the Egyptian regime. Already, the protesters have brought the head of the regime, Hosni Mubarak, to the point where he has said he will not contest the next election, due this September. One of the prices paid by such longstanding rule as his, is that any appearance of weakness is seen as a sign of the end. Egypt has been central to any perception of the Arab world, both because its wealth has supported a large population, and because it has been the breadbasket of the region for not just centuries, but millennia, dating back to the Pharaonic Era. While Egypt has always been important for the Muslim world, its leading role in it must be dated back to the time of Salahuddin Ayubi, the first liberator of Palestine, who may have been a Kurd, but who based his re-conquest of Jerusalem on his rule of Egypt. Therefore, when the Abbasid Caliphate sought a new home after the fall of Baghdad in 1258 to the Mongols, it was to Egypt it went. Thus, the allegiance that was always sent by the Sultan in Delhi to the Caliph was sent, after 1258, to Cairo rather than Baghdad. Ultimately, Egypt came under the Ottoman rule in 1517, and they also took the caliphate. Egypt was ruled by a Khedive, or Ottoman Viceroy, in Cairo. The Khedive ultimately became independent enough to dig the Suez Canal with French and British help, and they encouraged him to declare independence of the Ottomans as a king, though under a Franco-British 'condominium. Thus, though Egypt came under colonial rule, it was never actually a British colony, though it certainly seemed so in World War II, when it was the primary base for the defeat of Germany in the Middle East, in which the French played only a very minor role, being then under German occupation itself. Even at the time of the Khedives, Egypt displayed a tendency towards rebellion against imperialism. There was then the rebellion of Arabi Pasha in 1882. Though the King of Egypt had been formally independent since 1922, it was only when another rebellion within the army of Jamal Abdul Nasser, took place in 1952, that the King of Egypt (then King Farooq) went into exile, and the Suez Canal was nationalised, provoking the 1956 war. It is Nassers regime that is being sought to be replaced, for he was succeeded by Anwar Sadat when he died in 1970, and Sadat by Hosni Mubarak, when he was assassinated in 1981. Hosni Mubarak was planning to be succeeded by his son. But with the current disturbances, that seems impossible, and Mubarak will not be able to follow Hafez Al-Assad of Syria, the first of the Arab Presidents who was succeeded by a son. While not having his son inherit, Mubarak would be more like the pre-Ottoman mamluks, who ruled Egypt even after the Ottoman conquest, than a traditional monarchy. The key factor in his decision to give up power would be the refusal of the army to fire on the demonstrators. This is the first sign that a dictator is going, for the army is the ultimate sanction behind any government, both internally and externally. Of course, things have come to a desperate pass if the government must rely on its army to re-establish control, but be that as it may, if its ultimate sanction refuses to act as such, it is a safe bet that the government is at its last gasp. The army is also not shooting perhaps because it has political ambitions in which it has been encouraged by the US, which has relied before on the military to do its wishes, not least in South America, as well as in Pakistan. The Egyptian military has a history of political involvement older than Pakistan itself, and under the Nasserist regime, has become entrenched in the corridors of power. Under Sadat and Mubarak, and their pro-Israel policies, the Egyptian military has allowed a generation to pass since its defeats by Israel in the 1956, 1967 and 1973 wars. Indeed, the Egyptian military does not regard the 1973 war as a defeat, but after the initial success of the Suez crossing, the tank battle inside the Sinai Peninsula itself was lost. The military has been a strong supporter of Mubarak not just because he is a former air force general, but also because he was a force for stability. That stability, by the way, which has apparently come at the cost of food inflation and mass unemployment, is the main plank for the remaining in power of Mubarak. That is apparently why the US supports not just him, but also the entire power structure in the Arab world. However, as Egypt has long been the cultural leader, along with Lebanon of the Arab world, its politics have radiated. The stability (some would call it paralysis) there has been reflected in the rest of the Arab world. This can be visible from two trends which started in Lebanon, but which gained strength only when they were adopted by Egypt, following which they spread throughout the Arab world: Arab nationalism and Arab socialism. However, politically, it seems as Egypt is reverting to Islam, as seen in the strength of the Ikhwanul Muslimeen. Israel, and thus the US, is most concerned about the Mubarak regime being replaced by the Ikhwan. Though the Ikhwan were founded in Egypt, they have gained strength where there have been elections, and stand for strength in Palestine for example, where it forms the core of Hamas. The Ikhwan have backed former IAEA Chief Muhammad ElBaradei to negotiate, with Elbaradei clearly the one whom the western powers wish to emerge as the replacement for Mubarak. This is despite the fact that he has only recently returned to Egypt after his term as IAEA Chief came to an end, and though the only mass support he has, has been supplied by the Ikhwan. The Ikhwan should be used to being hijacked, as they were under Nasser, whose revolt they initially backed, only for him to launch the most severe persecution it experienced. Though founder Hassan Al-Banna had been assassinated by then, the persecution of Sayyid Qutb occurred at this time. The Ikhwan threw off splinters like anything, one of them producing Stambouli, the assassin of Sadat, another Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, as the Ikhwan got involved in the American-funded Afghan jihad. The events in Egypt have provoked an even more severe reaction than those in Tunisia, because Tunisia was seen as a harbinger, Egypt as the main event. If Mubarak falls, any other regimes to fall would be seen as sequels. And even if he does not fall, perhaps others might. That is the real danger of Tahrir Square. It does seem as if others would. This has been predicted not just for the Arab world, where the Yemeni President seems to be genuinely in trouble, while there have been demos all over, but even a prediction has been made for Pakistan. Certainly, the problems of inflation and unemployment exist here, but have people here given up on methods of peaceful change? The shooting of Pakistani citizens by a very suspicious American may well provide an excuse, but there do not seem to be any takers yet. But if the tinder is ready, almost anything can serve for a spark. Email: maniazi@nation.com.pk