CAIRO, Jan 30 (Reuters) - Egypt's president has brought the military and security establishment closer to the centre of power with the ultimate aim of securing their loyalty in the worst crisis to have rocked his rule.
President Hosni Mubarak named Omar Suleiman, his intelligence chief and confidant, as his No. 2 on Saturday, triggering speculation that he could be edging toward a military-approved handover of power.
So what's next? Following are some questions and answers:
WILL THE APPOINTMENT OF A VICE PRESIDENT END UNREST?
Mubarak's decision to pick Suleiman gave a clear indication that the Egyptian leader understands the magnitude of the social and political upheaval that has gripped his country.
Five days of unrest have forced Mubarak to make the long-delayed move of picking a deputy, signalling that his days in power may be numbered and that he may not run in a presidential election scheduled for September.
With protests keeping the momentum and his army and police failing to quell running battles in the streets, the pressure seems to have grown on the 82-old president from allies and aides to prepare for a transition.
Mubarak's legitimacy has all but evaporated under the overwhelming unrest in which 74 people have been killed and more than 2,000 injured.
It has also diminished the probability that he or his son Gamal, who has been lined up as a possible contender, would run in this year's presidential election.
"Mubarak has been damaged. I can't see how this is not the beginning of the end of Mubarak's presidency," said Jon Alterman, Director of the Middle East Programme for the Center of International Studies.
"It seems that his task now is to try and manage the transition past his leadership. I have a hard time believing that he will be the president in a year."
So far protesters responded to the announcement by stepping up anti-government demonstrators.
Witnesses reported seeing looters ransacking and setting public buildings on fire. Nothing less than Mubarak stepping down can quell the unrest, some said.
"The story of Gamal and Mubarak is over. Now, the regime is looking for who will rescue it. Mubarak, Omar Suleiman and Ahmed Shafiq know each other on a personal level," said Safwat Zayat, a military analyst.
"Their task in the coming months would be to ensure Mubarak's safety until the end of his reign. They will reorganise the regime's internal affairs."
WHAT MIGHT HAPPEN ON THE STREETS?
The army has deployed tanks and troops alongside police forces but has so far refrained from using force.
Security forces however have warned that they could resort to tougher measures to impose order.
They said that those arrested carrying out acts of vandalism would be tried in military court.
IS THIS THE BEGINNING OF THE END OF MUBARAK?
The revolt is the most serious challenge to the Egyptian government since the 1952 coup that ended monarchy and inaugurated a procession of military strongmen.
It has shaken the government to its core, sent shock waves across the Middle East and alarmed Western and regional allies.
Mubarak's nomination of an influential military figure with strong diplomatic credentials as his possible successor speaks volumes about the authorities' resolve to ensure that power stays in the hands of military and security institutions.
Mubarak also secured the much-needed support from the army.
"Mubarak is gone, because of his illness, because of his age and because of what happened now in Egypt," said Bassma Kodmani, the head of Arab Reform initiative.
"This man will be gone by September 2011. He is not an option and everyone knows that and his inner circle knows that.
"Mubarak is buying time. He needs to buy time to provide the needed minimum stability and control of the country to allow for an orderly transition."
WHAT DID HE LEARN FROM TUNISIA?
Neither Mubarak nor his close aides, including Suleiman, want to see a Tunisia-style exit.
When Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali appeared on television after weeks of rioting, those watching the address said fear appeared to be his dominant emotion.
When Mubarak appeared on TV on Friday, the contrast could not be greater. His was a poised and confident performance. Yet, it did little to calm tens of thousands of protesters.
Seeking to avoid appearing weak, Mubarak delivered a tough message and showed his resolve to stay in power.
The message involved giving the military full control and acknowledging people's economic frustrations, as well as promises to help the poor and introduce political reform.
"Ben Ali made concessions and a day later he was out of the country. He didn't want to make the same mistakes. The regime has broader support than Ben Ali had in the last days," said Alterman.
"The military in Tunisia not only didn't defend the president but they helped push him out of the country. In Egypt, the military rather than push Mubarak is his next line of defence," he said.
"The appointment of Omar Suleiman is intended to send a message that if Hosni Mubarak leaves, the regime remains in place. It is not intended to mollify (the protesters). It is intended to show resolve."
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