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How Long Can Mubarak Count On Egypt's Army?

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

As NPR's Rachel Martin reports, the military may have to choose sides.

RACHEL MARTIN: Each side of this political standoff is looking to the Egyptian Army. Mubarak supporters want them to keep order. Anti-Mubarak protestors want the military to take their side. The military in Egypt is such an important institution that is has the power to tip the scales in either direction. And as each day brings new protests, the pressure on the military grows.

RICHARD FONTAINE: Yeah. I think that the Army might crack at some point.

MARTIN: Richard Fontaine is a senior fellow with the Center For A New American Security.

FONTAINE: I wouldn't count out the possibility that at some point the Army basically calculates that Mubarak, or even Mubarak and Suleiman, will become too much of a liability and that they need to move toward the opposition and the protestors in order to save the institution or save the regime.

MARTIN: Anthony Cordesman is with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and has worked with the Egyptian military for decades. He says these top commanders are politically tied to Mubarak.

ANTHONY CORDESMAN: When you talk about these personalities, it's important to note that they and the senior command under them has a very mixed set of lines of loyalty, because all of them have been promoted by Mubarak.

MARTIN: But Cordesman says even these Mubarak allies may be pulled in different directions. Most of them he says are just professional commanders.

CORDESMAN: Whose primary loyalty is to the service - to the image of the service in the nation.

MARTIN: And there's another reason Mubarak may not be able to count on the military in the long run. That's because it's made up mostly of conscripts, which means virtually every Egyptian family is connected to someone who has served. So Egyptians feel almost an emotional connection to the military, and in particular, the Army - seen as the people's force. And Cordesman says especially in the middle ranks, it's a politically diverse force.

CORDESMAN: When you talk about these majors to colonels they inevitably are going to include some opponents to the regime, some Islamists, some people loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood.

MARTIN: Which means it's tough to predict just which direction the military writ large is likely to tip, and there's another possible fault line. Again, Richard Fontaine.

FONTAINE: There's been some suspicion among the senior leadership in the military, that there is a generational gap that if they push too hard, that the younger generation of military officers may not follow orders.

MARTIN: Rachel Martin, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.