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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Here's one of the ironies of Egypt's revolution. The situation calmed down as soon as the military stepped in. A military takeover is not normally associated with democracy.

MONTAGNE: And there's a deeper irony. Analysts say the generals now in charge largely represent the same vested interests that held power before the revolution.

INSKEEP: The army has committed to democratic reforms but its leaders have shown no fondness for democracy in the past.

NPR's Eric Westervelt reports on who the generals are and what they're doing now.

ERIC WESTERVELT: Seventy-six-year-old Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, the head of the military council now running Egypt, does not tweet. He prefers eyeglasses to the iPad. A leaked U.S. diplomatic cable described him as deeply resistant to change, intolerant of intellectual freedom, and singularly focused on regime stability.

Tantawi and other senior Egyptian officers, that cable said, simply don't have the energy, inclination or worldview to do anything differently. It also said junior officers mocked Tantawi as incompetent and Mubarak's poodle.

Mr. MAHMOUD SABIT (Historian): It was also said of Sadat that he was the poodle of Nasser.

WESTERVELT: Egyptian analyst and historian Mahmoud Sabit says Tantawi was shaped by his military experience in Egypt's 1956 war against Britain, France and Israel, as well as the wars with Israel in 1967 and 1973. Like several of the older military leaders on the council now running the country, Tantawi was groomed in a Soviet style of military leadership before Egypt's rapprochement with the West.

He's a career military man used to monologue, not political dialogue. Yet Sabit thinks the elderly poodle portrait is shortsighted.

Mr. SABIT: Men within a system like that have to, to a degree, be yes men. But once they're their own men, it's a different story.

WESTERVELT: The Egyptian military is seen as the most respected, trusted and efficient institution in the country. Since the 1952 military coup that toppled the monarchy, all of the country's leaders have come from the military.

Egyptian historian Sabit says mixing with old warriors like Tantawi are younger generals, such as Lieutenant General Sami Anan. They've cultivated American and European military connections and training and have a more modern worldview. Together, he says, the team now running Egypt has shown pragmatic flexibility and smarts so far during this unprecedented crisis.

Mr. SABIT: They want a straightforward transition. Whatever works, I think they'll go along with. It's a learning curve for them, which I think they're prepared to take.

WESTERVELT: Mubarak worked hard to keep his commanders out of politics and out of the limelight. He frequently fired generals and re-shuffled their commands so no one general grew too powerful or popular.

Today there are few viable political parties in Egypt to negotiate with, so there is really no option other than dialogue with the youth movement despite enormous cultural, generational and political gaps.

Dr. Sally Moore helped organize the protests that brought down the Mubarak regime.

Dr. SALLY MOORE (Protest Organizer): We were a bit skeptic before. Most of the military is part of the old regime as well. But I think that the army so far, they have shown that they were on our side. So I'm starting to trust in them.

WESTERVELT: And trust will be key, as the two sides cautiously work toward a democratic transition.

A huge issue few are talking about the Egyptian military's enormous stake in the national economy. Inspired by their Soviet military mentors, the Egyptian army under Gamal Abdul Nasser developed the idea of strategic self-sufficiency. The idea was we'll supply, feed and arm ourselves.

But today the Egyptian military has gone far beyond bread and bullets.

Mr. MICHAEL HANNA (Century Foundation): Bottled water, raising cattle, I mean things far removed from any sort of military industries.

WESTERVELT: Analyst Michael Hanna is an Egypt expert at the Century Foundation. He says while protest leaders might want to eventually bring civilian oversight to the Egyptian military's multi-billion dollar empire, they're also practical. They know now is not the time.

Mr. HANNA: To be crude, it's something of quid pro quo, I would imagine. You're not going to be able to bring the military along if you are also asking them to forfeit their economic interests. That's a difficult bargain to imagine being struck.

WESTERVELT: Skepticism abounds about the Egyptian military's sincerity. In 1952, the army promised democratic change and instead ushered in six decades of military rule in civilian garb. But during 18 days of street rage, the military came up against something their field manuals never prepared them for: a confrontation with a moral force expressing the will of the people.

Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Cairo.

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