Thousands of Egyptians are expected to protest today against the repressive 30-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak.
If there are mass demonstrations, it will be the biggest test so far of the theory that this month’s Tunisian uprising could result in a domino effect across the region.
Egypt’s biggest opposition movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, has said it will not officially take part.
But many of the group’s younger members are expected to take to the streets in smaller groups – and appear to have the tacit blessing of the movement’s hierarchy.
The government has said it will not tolerate illegal gatherings, however, and threatened to “crackdown firmly” if neccesary.
Egypt is a much bigger country than Tunisia, with a population of 80m people. It is also more volatile than Tunisia was thought to be.
However, most analysts believe the security and intelligence services have a tight grip and that although there may be some violence today, it should be containable.
Pro Mubarak supporters have decked the capital with posters of the president bearing the slogan ‘Mubarak Is Egypt’s Safety’.
This is intended to send the message that the president and his ruling NDP party bring stability, while warning that if the status quo is broken there could be chaos.
Unlike Tunisia, Egypt has a mass Islamic movement in the shape of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is well organised through a network of mosques.
It could mount a genuine challenge, but the military is unlikely to back it and the resulting struggle for power would be far bloodier than Tunsia.
More than 50,000 people have joined a Facebook campaign saying they will take part in the anti-government protests, but it would be a surprise if so many turned out.
The main demonstration is expected outside the Supreme Court in Cairo. Protests are also expected elsewhere in the capital including the Interior Ministry, and in Alexandria.
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