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Where Egypt military's loyalties lie remains unclear


(Emilio Morenatti)

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If Mubarak were forced from office, some Egypt analysts speculated that Enan would probably leave his post as well. "He is too close to Mubarak to stay," said Gawdat Bahgat, a professor at National Defense University in Washington who has worked extensively with Egyptian officers attending the school.

Some senior U.S. officials, however, view Enan as a trusted partner. Retired Army Lt. Gen. R. Steven Whitcomb, who oversaw joint exercises with the Egyptian military while stationed in the Middle East, invited Enan and his wife to his home at Fort McPherson in Atlanta for a private dinner in 2007. According to Whitcomb, Enan complained about the effect that budget cuts were having on the military as the Mubarak administration dealt with political and economic problems.

Despite the cuts, U.S. officials said that the Egyptian military continued to function well. "Their equipment was old, but pretty well maintained," Whitcomb said.

Others played down the roles of Enan and Tantawi as Egypt moves forward. "Enan is a figurehead. He really doesn't matter," said the former U.S. military official.

Egypt's modern history has been marked by a succession of military coups and strongman rule, beginning in 1952, when a group of young army officers led by Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser revolted against King Farouk and established the Arab Republic of Egypt.

Mubarak, a former air force general, has served as president since 1981. Although he has remained close to the armed forces, analysts said most Egyptian military leaders are steadfastly opposed to another coup or taking control of the government.

When Mubarak does leave - he has pledged to step down by September, although protesters want him to go now - a looming question is whether the largely secular Egyptian military can coexist with Islamist political parties that will seek to fill the vacuum. Mubarak and the military for decades have relentlessly repressed Islamist leaders, particularly figures from the Muslim Brotherhood, the movement that seeks to establish a government based on Islamic law.

The former U.S. general doubted that the Egyptian military would be able to work closely with a government dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood. "They have been fighting the Muslim Brotherhood since 1952," he said. "Sometimes they have tried to reach an accommodation with them. But it has never worked. There are deep scars between the two."

Despite this history of antagonism, analysts said that cooperation was not out of the question. "The Egyptian army will accept the Muslim Brotherhood because it has no other choice," said Bahgat, the National Defense University professor. "The Egyptian army is the best-organized institution in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood is the best-organized political group. They must work together."

Indeed, leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood have spoken favorably in recent days about Enan, saying they would support his taking a role on a "transition council" that would govern until elections can be held.

Emile Nakhleh, a former CIA analyst and an expert on Islamist movements, said the Muslim Brotherhood would much rather deal with the Egyptian military than the security services or intelligence agencies, which have taken an even harsher line against Islamists. He said the Brotherhood has been particularly opposed to Omar Suleiman, the former spy chief whom Mubarak elevated to vice president this week.

"They would like not only Mubarak to go, but Suleiman also," he said. "They view him as an extension of the regime."

whitlockc@washpost.com jaffeg@washpost.com

Jaffe reported from Washington. Staff writer Mary Beth Sheridan and staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.


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