In chapter 5 of The Decline and Fall of Roman Empire Edward Gibbon writes:

"The power of the sword is more sensibly felt  in an extenisive monarchy than in a small community...To illustrate this observation we need only reflect, that there is no superiority of natural strength, artificial weapons, or acquired skill, which could enable one man to keep in constant subjection one hundred of his fellow creatures...but an hundred thousand well-disciplined soldiers will command, with despotic sway, ten millions of subjects....

His observations about military force that hold true to this day. 

Military force is an requirement of all despotic governments,  whether oligarchies of the super rich or tyrannies of a dictator. Without the ever present threat and, from time to time, the judicious application of violence, oppressed people will rebel.

There is a difference between a military force whose role is to protect the nation from its enemies and one designed to protect the state from its own subjects.  While the first is motivated by a patriotic selflessness the latter is motivated by the exact opposite: selfishness.  

Selfishness does not engender loyalty.

Power, as Mao famously observed, comes from the barrel of a gun .  A concrete example of this is the observable fact that militaries employed in the suppression of their own population often realize that both the treasury and seatof power are in its hands.  When that occurs the master becomes the servant. 

This is worth remembering today as we watch convulsions across the Arab world. InEgypt we saw Hosni Mubarak replaced by the military in a relatively peaceful manner.  It is a well known fact that the Egyptian military controls a disproportionate share of the Egyptian economy.   Protesters in Tahrir Square proclaimed their love of and confidence in the Egyptian Armed Forces.   Mainstream media looked to the military as a legitimate political actor and potential guarantor of the country's future.  The military decided the outcome of the demonstrations, and did so without extensive violence.

Little has actually changed. The situation is reminiscent of another country ruled by an institutional military - Guatemala in the 1980s.   At that time the country was in the midst of a savage counter insurgency prosecuted by the president Gen. Efrain Rios Montt .  Rios Montt attracted a lot of international criticism, and  was considered responsible for the bloodshed, but he pointed out that the army had put him into power, and that when the Army told him to go he would leave power.  This proved accurate.  Rios Montt  retired, the counter insurgency continued, and the General remained in Guatemala in relative peace.

The same thing has happened with Hosni Mubarak, albeit less  smoothly than in theGuatemalan example.  The  military still controls Egypt just as they have since 1952.  Inthe immortal words of Pete Townsend:  Meet new boss. The same as the old boss.

Libya presents a very different picture. Lacking an institutionalized military it is ruled by a tyrant more eccentric and insane.  He retains the respect and awe of his guards, and when their numbers are lacking he supplements them with mercenaries.  Rulers like this do not flinch at the sight of blood nor are they concerned with the volume spilled. They serve Death, and will remain in power until they can no longer supply corpses to Death`s altar.  

History shows that it is a lucky tyrant indeed who, no longer able to serve his master,  is not compelled  to join his victims.  While  Mubarak likely to fade from memory and eventually die in his sleep in his retirement palace at Sharm al Sheik, Gadhafi will likely share the fate of Somoza and Ceaucescu.

This is an important distinction to recognize.  Ghadafi`s regime has always been different from the government in Egypt. We've known this for 40 years.  The only thing Ghadafi  has in common with Hosni Mubarak is that he`s getting too old to rule.  Unlike Mubarak, however, he is the real boss.  In Egypt the military was the boss, and so it survived the titular ruler, who must be replaced from time to time.  

The reason it`s important to recognize this difference is because an institutionalized military shares power among itself, and often does so for logical reasons.  A dictator doesn`t share power because it is usually a question of life or death.  An institutional military can be moved toward democratic reform, as happened in Central America, because it can survive the transistion, and can even support the transition.  The good of the nation matters to a professional, institutionalized military.   To a dictator the nation is only an extension of is own ego.  They are two very different beasts, and we should recognize this and deal with them differently long before troubles erupt.  More to the point,  strong relations with a professional, institutionalized military should be encouraged in non-democratic states, while dictators should always be undermined.