Two things to consider as pro-regime thugs beat Egyptian protestors. One is Daniel Davies’ point about arseholes as a strategic resource. The other, related issue, is that when a dictatorship seems to be on the verge of toppling, there’s a real divergence of interests between the people at the tippy-top of the hierarchy and the much larger train of individuals more loosely associated with the regime.
In this case, for example, Hosni Mubarak clearly has the option at any point of fleeing the country and living out the rest of his life in a comfortable and prosperous exile. And there’s some number of other key leaders for whom that’s also the case. Beyond exile, given the long duration of Mubarak’s rule any possible post-Mubarak regime will need to continue employing some large number of incumbent civilian and military officials merely because the opposition lacks the requisite expertise. But as you further down the chain, these options tend to disappear. In any functioning authoritarian regime, some large minority of the population will see itself as benefitting from the dictatorship. And unlike Mubarak himself, most of these people have nowhere to go. They don’t have Swiss bank accounts and the option of moving the Monaco.