If the military is ever to be a legitimate national force, it must side with the protesters against Mubarak's thugs and the police. These thugs today have been ridiculously and mistakenly labelled by right-wing media as "pro-Mubarak demonstrators". It is crucial at this moment in the Egyptian Uprising to understand that this is the Egyptian Army's moment of truth. As the thousands of unarmed demonstrators are tortured, trampled, firebombed and molested by Mubarak's thugs, will the military move to protect, or to crush the non-violent democratic movements that have occupied Tahrir Square in Cairo for the last ten days. Following up on Paul Amar's useful analysis, we need to know which faction of which branch of the army is in ascendant, and where exactly we can identify and energise possible allies of the people within these forces.
The newly appointed Vice President is Omar Suleiman, who everyone assumes is being groomed to be the next president. We Egyptians know him as the person who managed the negotiations between different Palestinian groups and assuages Israel's security concerns. Suleiman is welcomed by the US as a trusted man who caters to international interests. Suleiman is from the Intelligence Services (mukhabarat) which is loosely associated with the Army. Intelligence is charged with international security and countering the external Islamist militant threat. Suleiman is not hated by the people, but his base of support is as much in Washington and Tel Aviv as it is in Cairo.
But Suleiman does not have an exceptionally strong base of support at home. On the other hand, Field Marshall Muhammad Hussein Tantawi, the General Chief of the Army (al-Geysh) does indeed have a domestic base of legitimacy and respect. So this plays out now as a very critical struggle between Mukhabarat and Geysh, that is, between Soleiman and Tantawi. Since the police and security forces have done most of the repressing and torturing, the Geysh have kept their hands clean. So Tantawi is the person whom we Egyptian people respect. But we do not know him that well and we wonder if we can trust him and the Geysh.
Citizens have an image that the soldiers of the army are people who care and have a national mission to protect the people and the land. However, the Intelligence services are thought of as politicians whose role is to protect the US and Israel - and to protect their own political power as dependent to the international scene. Egyptians generally do not have a clear opinion on Suleiman or the Mukhabarat but they suspect that Suleiman is drawing out the endless Israeli peace/security mandate. Whereas under Nasser, the military was serving the nation; under Mubarak, the Intelligence Services serve the individual leader’s personal ambitions.
People in Egypt feel safe with the army and love them without dealing closely with them. Once they have to deal with them directly as repressors or direct rulers, the limitless hate they have now for the police may be transferred directly to the army. Citizens should create a clear position toward the army and the army should play a decisive role in favour of peoples’ demands in order to maintain the nation's respect.
During the next days Tantawi's armed forces will have their chance to reaffirm the national fabric and legitimacy of the country, or to plunge into the mire of brutality and corruption – the place where Suleiman’s Intelligence Services now wallow along with Mubarak's thugs and the monstrous police forces.
Tantawi today must step up to protect the people, evict the Mubarak family from the country immediately, and subordinate the international mission of the mukhabarat to the national mission of the people. He could then facilitate the peaceful transition everyone wants to a new parliamentary election and a presidential one.
Mozn Hassan, Director for the El-Nazra for Feminist Studies in Cairo, is a prominent leader of the Democracy Movement in Egypt and an expert in human rights, international law, gender policy, and constitutional reform.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.