Rightly, much attention is now being paid to the Egyptian military. David Pion-Berlin, Harold Trinkunas, and I among others commented on the issue at The Monkey Cage from the perspective of Latin Americanists. Although comparisons to Batista's Cuba or Somoza's Nicaragua are compelling for understanding U.S. policy, they are weaker for understanding civilian-military relations, because those governments did not have independent military institutions. What the Latin American experience demonstrates, however, is that all the current excitement must be tempered by the fact that the outcome in Egypt is by no means preordained to be democratic.
Along those lines, Steven Taylor links to a Foreign Affairs article by Ellis Goldberg, a political scientist at the American University in Cairo.
Today, the army presents itself as a force of order and a neutral arbiter between contending opponents, but it has significant interests of its own to defend, and it is not, in fact, neutral. The basic structure of the Egyptian state as it now exists has benefited the military. The practical demands of the protesters seem fairly simple: end the state of emergency, hold new elections, and grant the freedom to form parties without state interference. But these demands would amount to opening up the political space to everyone across Egypt's social and political structure. That would involve constitutional and statutory changes, such as reforming Egypt as a parliamentary rather than a presidential system, in which a freely elected majority selects the prime minister (who is now appointed by the president). These changes would wipe away the power structure the army created in 1952 and has backed since.
At a minimum. the military will protect its prerogatives, though this can be consistent with democratic elections. With luck, this will be a case like Bolivia or Ecuador, where the military withdrew support from leaders facing massive protests, then stepped aside to allow elections. If that happens, then it may well take years to whittle away at the prerogatives, as in Chile. Let's see how the meetings go between Mubarak's opposition and the armed forces.