Egyptian military’s role in rendering support to ‘people or Govt’ is doubtful: Analysts

Saturday, January 29, 2011

CAIRO - Egyptian Political analysts are finding it difficult to predict what role the armed forces would play in either suppressing the disturbances or easing President Hosni Mubarak from power.

“Are they on the side of the nation or are they on the side of the regime? That distinction had been blurred. We are now seeing a modern test of whether there is a separation between the two,” The New York Times quoted a former senior Western diplomat with long service in Cairo, as saying. he Egyptian military is the world’s 10th largest force, and is considered very powerful, popular and opaque.

In 1952, the military brought down the monarchy and had taken control ever since. In fact, all four Presidents in the later years have been military generals. However, Hosni Mubarak, who led the Air Force before rising to prominence when President Anwar el-Sadat appointed him vice president in 1975, worked hard to keep the army out of politics and under his control.

He had even taken a step of dismissing Field Marshal Abdel-Halim Abu Ghazala, a popular, charismatic war hero, from his post as defence minister in 1989. The General was accused of a smuggling scandal, but most analysts believed that he was fired because his public profile was too high.

Anlaysts now believe the current defence minister, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi who is considered an unpopular man in his late 70s, is unlikely to challenge Mubarak.

During the Tunisia protests this month, the decision of the military chief not to fire on protesters was seen as a decisive factor in driving President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali out of the country. Although no analyst doubts Mubarak’s loyalist General Tantawi, some of them pointed that his top subordinates might consider it, the paper said.

Some analysts even say that the military deployment around the government institutions, the first time in decades, is a sign of desperation, and raises the question of when the military might begin to doubt Mubarak’s viability. The question that arises is whether the military would fire on demonstrators, if ordered.

“If the military fires on civilians after demonstrations that are clearly popular, that will imperil the standing of the military, its integrity. This time the institution’s future is at risk,” Samer Shehata, a professor of Arab politics at Georgetown University, said. (ANI)

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