In the meantime, the SCAF is increasingly at risk of losing Egypt's primary international financier. The prosecution of 16 Americans who work for several non-governmental organizations has badly frayed ties with the United States, and several prominent U.S. senators have already said that the $1.3 billion of annual U.S. military assistance should be withheld as a result. But Robert Springborg, a professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School who has written extensively on Egypt's military establishment, said that the SCAF may be trying to escalate tensions with the United States to better maintain order within its own ranks.
"The degree of escalation suggests the SCAF wanted to provoke a confrontation," Springborg said. "Part of the SCAF's calculation is that many of its officers are not happy and it is therefore frightened of a coup."
"By provoking the U.S., [SCAF leader Mohamed Hussein] Tantawi is seen as standing up to them, so any attempt of officers acting against him could be painted as a move by the U.S.," Springborg added. "He's frightened to death, and this is a preemptive move to make less senior military personnel less keen to move against him."
As the SCAF prepares to hand over formal power to civilian rule, some officers have been critical of Egypt's rulers for not doing enough to preserve the military's prerogatives in the future government. Ahead of the anniversary of Egypt's Jan. 25 uprising, for example, the SCAF announced a series of measures designed to assuage popular anger -- officially ending the Emergency Law, which had prevailed since the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat, and ordering the release of thousands of civilians held in military jails.
"There are some good people [in the SCAF] but most of them don't understand what it is they are doing," the Egyptian Army officer said. "They panic and they give into protesters' demands. Giving in every time people gather in Tahrir Square is not how democracy works."
As unrest foments within the ranks, so too does corruption in the armed forces, which reportedly controls up to 40 percent of Egypt's economy. The Western diplomat said that graft has actually risen since Mubarak's ousting, as the military took the reins of the state.
"It has increased, because the older heads that remain know they can get more things past the younger officers," the diplomat said.
Faced with a population chafing under military rule, an angry superpower ally, and a restive officer corps, it's not easy being an Egyptian general these days. As a result, the SCAF's strategy seems to be to hand power over to a civilian government that will preserve its privileges -- and pray that everything doesn't come crashing down before then.
"SCAF is already treading on eggshells when it gives its orders," the diplomat said. "It cannot keep this up for too much longer."