Egyptian military regulars sympathetic to the pro-democracy protesters in Tahrir Square in Cairo are hesitant to fully embrace the movement for fear of retaliation from President Hosni Mubarak's secret police, according to a knowledgeable source.
"They are afraid that (the secret police) will take it out on their families," said the U.S. source with deep military ties. "They are sympathetic, but they really fear the secret police."
Torture, murder and mayhem are the calling cards of the secret police, according to media reports that have exposed their practices during the pro-democracy revolution.
Unlike the generals in the Egyptian military still clinging to the Mubarak regime, the rank and file soldiers live a working class existence more in line with the majority of the protesters than the life of opulence their commanders know. The military's support remains the best hope for swiftly pushing out the regime, setting up a provisional government and moving towards the first truly democratic elections in the ancient country's history.
Adding to the soldiers' fear of reprisal were the contentious remarks by Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman that sent shock waves from Tahrir to the White House. "We don't want to deal with Egyptian society with police tools," Suleiman warned, predicting a coup attempt could result if an accord is not reached to end the occupation of Tahrir.
The protesters, meanwhile, were equally put off by Suleiman's cavalier attitude towards emerging democracy, angry that their message apparently had gone unheard by the regime. "The culture of democracy is still far away," Suleiman told Egyptian newspaper editors Tuesday, echoing comments that set off the demonstrators earlier in the week.
The White House called Suleiman's remarks unhelpful, and Vice President Joe Biden again had to get on the phone with his Egyptian counterpart to formally register the administration's concerns.
But undeterred, the freedom-craving protesters were bolstered Tuesday by nationwide strikes by workers demanding more money. They promise another massive protest Friday.