Sorry for trying to wax poetic and failing, but I couldn't come up with a better title.
Once a democracy is established, peaceful protests are a fine example of turning public opinion and influencing policy. We've seen that in the last couple of years with the Tea Party protests that continue to this day.
But the key to creating a democracy doesn't lie with protests. It never has and it never will. Those protesting the oppressive rule of Egypt's Hosni Mubarak lost before they ever took to the streets. Why? The military. It has always been a country's military that is the final nail in the coffin of a country's prior regime. Even a peaceful transfer of power can only succeed if the military allows it. Those who continue those protests in Egypt due so in vain; the only ones left are the few hopeless ideologues struggling to the bitter end and murderous thugs (ie., the Muslim Brotherhood) interested primarily in death, mayhem, and anarchy; it's the actions of the latter that Frances Fox Piven sickeningly glorifies. But they never work.
Our own American Revolution is a perfect example of that. The protest that led to the Boston Massacre and the actions taken by patriots that led to the Boston Tea Party did nothing on their own. It took the formation of an American military, led by enough competent general officers, that made the difference. Once the government of King George III no longer had any power over America, the people took those British institutions and Americanized them into what we have today.
Protests and violent actions did nothing to end slavery. If anything, the violence gave Southern Democrats the impetus to believe they needed to launch a violent rebellion to break away from the United States. It might have succeeded too since the Union armies had a dearth of quality generals to lead the United States Army, that is until U.S. Grant was eventually placed in charge over all of the Union forces and quality subordinates were able to work strategically to defeat the Confederates. No internal threat has even come close to materializing into something that could possibly bring down the American system of government.
Looking back into antiquity, power has always been attained or retained only when the military backs the winning side. The military has determined who becomes king or queen, emperor or empress, or is part of an oligarchy or dictatorship. It's how democracies have always been made. It's also how they've been unmade, as was the case when Adolf Hitler finally became Chancellor and then Führer of Germany. Hitler was able to garner support from the leading German military figures before he was able to put them under his thumb.
In its long, ancient history, Egypt has never had a democracy. Whether ruled by Egyptian and Greek pharaohs, Roman and Byzantine emperors, caliphs, sultans, kings, or generals, the military has always decided who would rule Egypt. Within the past century, the British Army and Navy had this power before finally turning over military duties to the Egyptians themselves. It was the Egyptian Army that overthrew the monarchy to put one of its own in charge. Since then, four military men have had the helm of Egyptian government: Muhammed Naguib, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar al-Sadat, and finally Hosni Mubarak. With the current protests that have occurred, the Egyptian military stood quite conspicuously to the side until finally deciding they wanted to retain the power they've had for the last 60 years. Their military has far greater power over the governance of Egypt than the American military has had since 1783; ie., the Egyptians haven't yet produced a George Washington.
That is the key those practicing America's foreign policy need to understand, the military will decide who wins and who loses. Obviously, we have enough financial influence to direct the Egyptian military towards a leader who would be more beneficial for Egypt and us; but, the military will retain its power regardless, and we in America don't want the Egyptian military to seek other sources who would willingly give it what it wants.
It's too bad those who want democracy in Egypt will not get it. It isn't in the cards; the powers that be do not wish it at this time, and there is nothing that can change that. All we can do is passively guide Egypt towards that goal so that the military eventually sees the advantages in instituting democracy. But they aren't there yet, no matter how much the people, theirs and ours, want it.