Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, former head of the military council that ruled Egypt temporarily after the 2011 uprising, has died at the age of 85, Egypt’s presidency said.
Tantawi, a decorated veteran of wars against Israel in 1956, 1967 and 1973, was a defence minister for nearly 21 years.
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He led the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) that ruled Egypt for a year and a half after the removal of the long-term President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.
Tantawi was sacked as a defence minister in August 2012, a few weeks after the late President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood took power in what was described as the first free and fair elections in Egypt’s modern history. He has spent his remaining years largely out of public view.
Tantawi “died today, Tuesday, after giving a lot” to his country, the government newspaper Akhbar al-Youm said in an online report confirmed to AFP news agency by a military official speaking on condition of anonymity.
Like all Egyptian leaders from the overthrow of the monarchy in 1952 to the 2012 election of Morsi, Tantawi came from military ranks.
Born in 1935, and of Nubian origin, Tantawi began his career as an infantryman in 1956. He served during the 1956 Suez War and in the 1967 and 1973 Middle East wars against Israel.
After taking charge of the country, his military government quickly said Egypt would stay “committed” to its regional and international treaties, implicitly confirming that its 1979 peace treaty with Israel would remain intact.
In 1991, Tantawi was on the side of the US-led coalition in the first Gulf War after Iraq’s Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.
He became the army chief in 1995.
Despite being a close associate of Mubarak, Tantawi relented to public pressure and put the ex-president on trial on charges of inciting the killing of hundreds of protesters during the 2011 uprising.
‘Charming but change-resistant’
Tantawi was often perceived as a possible presidential candidate after Mubarak was deposed, but his age and reported ill health counted against him.
Those who knew him felt he would likely have failed to meet the surging democratic aspirations of Egyptians after Mubarak.
A March 2008 US diplomatic cable published on the activist website WikiLeaks described Tantawi as “charming and courtly” but also “aged and change-resistant”.
“He and Mubarak are focused on regime stability and maintaining the status quo through the end of their time. They simply do not have the energy, inclination or world view to do anything differently,” the cable warned.
His death came 19 months after Mubarak died in a Cairo military hospital in February last year.
The army was widely praised for allowing anti-Mubarak protests during the uprising, and the military government pledged to pave the way “to an elected civil authority to build a free democratic state”.
Demonstrators had often hailed the armed forces as a unifying national force – less brutal and corrupt than the interior ministry police or pro-Mubarak thugs who attacked their marches.
But their joy soon turned into anger, accusing the military of dragging its feet in launching democratic reforms.
Morsi, less than two months after his election as Egypt’s leader in June 2012, sacked Tantawi and, fatefully, replaced him with then military intelligence chief, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
El-Sisi went on to overthrow Morsi after street protests against the Muslim Brotherhood’s one year of rule, and himself became president in 2014.