FRANK GARDNER The fate of Egypts President Hosni Mubarak, his entire state apparatus, and that of the popular uprising confronting them now depends largely on the actions of his army and security forces. The two are not the same. Broadly speaking, Egyptians respect their army, which is still seen as a patriotic bulwark against their neighbour Israel, with whom they went to war in 1967 and 1973. But the black-clad riot police, the Central Security Force (Amn al-Markazi), belongs to the interior ministry, and has been in the forefront of much of the violent confrontations with protesters. Poorly paid and mostly illiterate, they number around 330,000 when combined with the Border Force. They themselves rioted over low pay in the early years of President Mubaraks rule and had to be brought under control by the army. The army has a similar strength - around 340,000 - and is under the command of Gen Mohammad Tantawi, who has close ties with the US (he has just been visiting the Pentagon). When Mr Mubarak ordered the army onto the streets of Cairo and other cities late on Friday, his aim was to back up the riot police who have been heavily outnumbered by the protesters. But many of them are hoping the army will take their side or, at the very least, act as a restraining force on the police who have been acting with excessive brutality throughout this protest. Hence the cheers that greeted the columns of army vehicles as they drove through Cairo on Friday night. Up until now, President Mubarak has enjoyed the support of the armed forces. He was, after all, a career air force officer suddenly catapulted to the presidency when Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981. But if these protests continue and intensify there are bound to be senior voices within the military tempted to urge him to stand down. This is the most serious popular challenge to his 30-year rule that anyone can remember. BBC