After having been quiet for a while, the Egyptian army finally spoke up to force rival politicians to end their standoff.

Although it stepped back and out of the political spotlight last year, as the crisis in the country worsened, the military made a return, issuing a stern warning to President Mohamed Morsi: Resolve the crisis or we will.

It was unclear what role the military might play in Egypt's future, but what was certain was the army's long history of having a hand in the running of the country.

The same people who criticised the army [during the first 18 months of the revolution] are the same people who are asking the army to put order in the street and take over .... The army has no intention whatsoever, or interest, to rule the country or even to play a role in the political life of this country.

Samih Saif El Yazal, retired Egyptian major general

The influence of the armed forces can be traced back to the start of the modern state of Egypt, when a coup led by the so-called Free Officers overthrew the monarchy in 1952. Since then, every Egyptian president has had a military background, including Hosni Mubarak, who was forced out of power in a revolution two years ago.

When Egyptians led their revolution against Mubarak in early 2011, the army gave assurances that it was on the side of the protesters. The phrase, "the army and the people are one hand", was commonly heard.

However, after the uprising, the army came under mounting pressure during the 18 months it led Egypt's transition. And once power was transferred to a civilian government, the army made sure that its privileges and assets were protected by the constitution. Those assets include everything from tourist resorts, to factories that make kitchen appliances.

While estimates vary widely, the army's business empire is said to account for anywhere between five and 40 percent of the economy. People in Egypt are divided about the role of the military in the current political crisis.

Egypt, of course, is not the only country in the Middle East with a long association with its military, as other recent 'revolutions' have shown.

In Syria, the military's role has been clearly defined from the start as they backed President Bashar al-Assad and his government.

In Yemen, when Ali Abdullah Saleh was still president, only some of the military sided with him when he was faced with protests. Even his own half-brother, General Mohsin al-Ahmar, defected and backed the demonstrators.

In Libya, Muammar Gaddafi never created a strong and unified army because he was afraid of a coup; instead he relied on mercenaries to fight for him.

And in Tunisia, the army had long been marginalised, but it came as little surprise when soldiers backed the protesters demanding Zine el Abedine Ben Ali step down.

In 1991 in Algeria the army stepped in after Islamists won the country's first free elections, annulling the whole process. The result was a vicious civil war.

So what are the risks of the military's involvement in Egypt's political crisis? And what role should the military play in countries that have recently had revolutions?

To discuss this issue on Inside Story, presenter Stephen Cole is joined by guests: Samih Saif El Yazal, a retired Egyptian major general; Bashir Abdel Fattah, the editor-in-chief of Al-Ahram Democracy Review, also specialising in the political rule of the military in the Middle East; and Sarah Eltantawi, a fellow in Arab studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

"The army in the Arab countries has a special relationship with both the ruling elite and the public .... [It] played a vital role in building the modern state in the Arab world. First of all they played an important role for the independence of those countries from colonialism and foreign occupation and they began to establish the infrastructure and to build the modern country."

- Bashir Abdel Fattah, editor in chief of Al-Ahram Democracy Review

Source: Al Jazeera