Military caught between Mubarak, pro-democracy protesters

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Washington, Feb.11 (ANI): Though the Egyptian military has managed the crisis in the country for the past 17 days, it still appears that it is caught between remaining loyal to one of its own-President Hosni Mubarak-and or deciding to make that crossover, and go with the wishes of pro-democracy protesters.

On Thursday, a roller coaster of a day, the military at first appeared to be moving to usher Mubarak from the scene, and then watched with the world as Mubarak clung to his title, delegating some powers to Vice-President Omar Suleiman.

According to the New York Times, the standoff between the protest leaders and Mubarak, hours before major demonstrations set for Friday, could pose a new dilemma for the military commanders.

By most accounts, the army units deployed in Cairo and other cities have shown little appetite for using force to clear the streets.

Andrew McGregor of the Jamestown Foundation, a Washington research center, said the military was caught between Mubarak and the protesters, and that it was hard to predict how officers might react.

"For the first time, I think there's the possibility of a split in the military," the NYT quoted McGregor, author of "A Military History of Modern Egypt," as saying.

The protesters' hopes soared Thursday afternoon, when the chief of staff of the armed forces, Lt. Gen. Sami Hafez Enan, visited Tahrir Square in Cairo and suggested that their demands would soon be met.

He also presided along with the defense minister, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, over a meeting of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

Paul J. Sullivan, an expert on the Egyptian military at the National Defense University, said it was only the third time in Egypt's history that the council had met. Other meetings were held during wars with Israel in 1967 and 1973.

Neither Mubarak nor Suleiman were at the meeting, and the resulting communiqué declared that the council had met "in affirmation of support for the legitimate demands of the people."

So it came as a shock when Mubarak said he was not stepping down.

The military has been an anchor of Egypt's authoritarian government for nearly 60 years.

It helped usher Mubarak, a former air force chief, into office after the assassination of Anwar el-Sadat in 1981.

But under Mubarak's rule, its role in Egyptian politics has been reduced, with the separate domestic security services playing the role of political enforcer.

Many top military officers have kept busy overseeing the military industries that represent an estimated five to 15 percent of the economy.

In addition to its role as the ultimate source of political power, the military has a huge role in the Egyptian economy. ince a peace treaty was signed with Israel in 1979, military industries have expanded in part to keep a relatively idle officer corps content.

Now the military finds itself in an unfamiliar role, caught between swelling protests and civilian leaders who appear reluctant to cede real power. (ANI)

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