Egyptians “see that the Muslim Brotherhood has power, guns and militias, so no one can face them without the army,” Harb said. “And in Egyptian culture, the army is the one to save the country from any occupation.”
The opposition could not achieve its goals of national leadership through last year’s elections, losing the parliamentary and presidential votes — the country’s first democratic elections — to the better-organized Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups.
The military, which helped uphold Mubarak’s fiercely anti-Islamist regime for decades, may be the opposition’s easiest path to redemption.
“People see the military as the antithesis of the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Samer Shehata, a political scientist at Georgetown University and an expert on Egyptian politics. “And, at the same time, [the military] is viewed as the only way out, and people are looking for a way out.”
In favor of military
Human rights groups documented extensive military abuses during the generals’ 11
2-year tenure as transitional rulers, including the arbitrary detention and torture of protesters and the trials of thousands of Egyptians by closed military tribunals.
But even then, the military, which had long been a symbol of Egyptian cultural pride, never lost the country’s favor. As protests against the military heated up a year after Mubarak’s fall, about 88 percent of Egyptians still viewed the military with confidence, a Gallup poll reported at the time.
No recent polls are available to indicate the extent of the army’s popularity today, but calls for the generals to save a desperate nation are increasingly heard on street corners, in protest chants and on talk shows.
“If the army doesn’t come and alleviate our misery, then this country is going to turn out like Syria,” said Rafaat Said, a Cairo cabdriver who, like many Egyptians, laments the rising inflation and deep insecurity in the streets.
Many members of the Christian minority also have invoked the neutralizing power of an army that many had said they lost faith in after it took part in an October 2011 massacre of mostly Christian protesters in downtown Cairo.
A spate of sectarian attacks on Christians this month, including clashes outside Cairo’s main cathedral, helped cement the Islamists’ position as a far more worrying foe.
But some analysts and diplomats dismiss the critics’ calls as wishful thinking, saying the military would have little incentive to wade back into the political sphere. They say the generals’ top priority may be to maintain their immunity from prosecution and to preserve a vast, military-run economic empire — perks that are preserved under the Islamist-backed constitution.
“The military will only go down [to the streets] when there is chaos . . . that the country cannot control,” said Mohamed Habib, a former deputy head of the Muslim Brotherhood.
A Western diplomat who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject echoed that view. “They have zero interest in getting back into the political environment,” the diplomat said.
Sharaf al-Hourani and Lara El Gibaly contributed to this report.