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Military Role Crucial in Egypt Unrest

A demonstrator shakes hands with a soldier just outside Tahrir, or Liberation, Square in Cairo, Egypt, February 01, 2011

The U.S. Defense Department said Tuesday that Egypt's number two military officer, Lieutenant General Sami Anan, has assured the U.S. that the Egyptian army will be a stabilizing factor in the current unrest.

The top U.S. military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, said "the Egyptian military has handled itself exceptionally well" during this "very volatile" time. Mullen said he hopes the U.S. and Egyptian militaries will continue their close relationship regardless of the outcome of the protests.

Egypt's 500,000-strong army has guarded government buildings while also saying it recognizes the "legitimate demands" of the Egyptian people and will not "use force" against the public.

The loyalty of the military is critical in determining whether President Hosni Mubarak can stay in power.

Egypt's army is popular and highly respected, while many Egyptians see the police force as corrupt and repressive.

Riot police and demonstrators engaged in deadly clashes last week before the police were withdrawn and the army was deployed to maintain order.

View the slide show of today's protests

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