Reading up what has been written on US policy options, most of the focus seems to be on how current American posture might affect our credibilty and relationships with Egyptian governments, either the Mubarak regime or whatever replaces it. An AP roundup suggests the worst likely disaster would be Mubarak remaining in power, but alienated from us.
Actually, I think there is a bigger one: the post-uprising Egyptian state lacks a security apparatus which can control its territory.
Maybe I’m too influenced by Iraq, here. The army and police have not been disbanded, the power has not been shut off nationwide, etc. But there are a few parrallels. Prisons are being broken open, weapons looted, policemen and police auxiliaries are turning gangster. There are reports of kidnapping so far, but if this persists for any extended period of time, gangs might start developing the networks and techniques needed to run abduction rackets. If the police lose even the passive support of the populace, they will become demoralized, cut off from their sources of information, unable and unwilling to venture beyond their bases to pursue ordinary criminals or militants alike. Al-Qaeda thrives in a power vaccuum.
Also, if Mubarak survives this, God knows what kind of internal alliances he will attempt to restore control. The baltagi petty criminals kept on the payroll whenever security wanted to bust a few heads at demonstrations with plausible deniability are only a beginning. Saddam after 1991 might offer a template of how to run a country through proxy: revive tribalism, cultivate a few Salafi networks, deepen ties with Sinai or Upper Egyptian smugglers (ie, the infamous “drug deputies” of the 1990s). The regime has certainly tapped into some of these networks in the past — that’s how you keep yourself informed, after all — but might be tempted to give them a much freer hand, if that’s what it would take to stay in power.
But I think that the main threat comes not so much from desperate measures by the regime, but simply by the natural expansion of criminal networks in a power vaccuum. A serious culture of criminality takes time to organize itself, but when it sinks roots, it can be very difficult to reverse.