As the political pressure on the SCAF intensifies, the question becomes whether or not its members might seek to defend its and the military's interests by dumping Tantawi, just as the field marshal dumped Mubarak. After all, the second in command is Chief of Staff General Sami Abul Enan, whose good reputation appears yet to be badly tarnished by Tantawi's and the SCAF's misdeeds. What could trigger an internal coup? Grumbling in the officer corps, combined with a growing fear of the appeal of Islamism among enlisted men -- especially in the wake of the electoral triumph of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis -- are incentives for the SCAF to turn on Tantawi lest the military, possibly in some sort of alliance with Islamists, turn on the SCAF.
In sum, the political pressure on Tantawi, now heightened by the results of the first round of parliamentary elections and the SCAF's immediate attempt to disempower parliament even before it is seated, is enough to make anyone nervous. That he was Mubarak's manager of the military economy -- a vast enterprise including factories, bakeries, and other businesses -- for more than two decades, hence with plenty to hide, may cause him to wonder if he might end up on the wrong side of the dock with his old boss.
But clumsy censorship simply exacerbates his and the SCAF's problems. One lesson of the Arab Spring is that news now travels very fast indeed. Within hours of the 20,000 copies of the second issue of Egypt Independent being pulped, the story had spread not only in Egypt, but globally, as the article in London's The Independent attests. It did not used to be this way. A previous publisher of al-Masry al-Youm, Hisham Kassem, former chairman of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, clashed several years ago with the owners of the paper over the issue of editorial freedom. He ultimately resigned. That the ostensibly liberal owners of the paper, including Naguib Sawiris, founder of the possibly misnamed Free Egyptians Party, were not then revealed as having endorsed censorship suggests the profound enhancement of information flow over the past three or four years, to say nothing of commitment to that flow. (Indeed, the bravery of the staff of Egypt Independent provides ample evidence of that.)
But there are some worrying implications here, too. That even Egyptians nominally on the liberal side of the country's political spectrum drag out the old canards of foreign conspiracies and spies to discredit those whose views they fear might upset powerful actors does not augur well for a possible transition to a more liberal political order. And as far as the most powerful actor is concerned, the SCAF, its profound sensitivities, overreactions, and outright duplicity suggest that both its commitment and its capacity to orchestrate a successful transition are in grave doubt. Its misdeeds unfortunately threaten not only itself and its leader, but, paradoxically, the integrity of the military -- to say nothing of the stability and well being of the country as a whole. This in turn poses a huge challenge to Washington, which is now caught between an incompetent SCAF and a potentially hostile Islamist government, with no obvious place to turn given the apparent political weakness of liberal secularists.
In sum, there is lots of bad news in Cairo, but censorship will not prevent it from getting out.