Marshal Hussein, the former head of the military council that ruled Egypt after the ouster of longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak in the 2011 Arab Spring uprising, died on Tuesday, the Egyptian presidency announced. He was 85 years old.
After his stint as Egypt’s de facto leader, he was quickly sacked by the country’s first freely elected president, Islamist Mohamed Morsi, and spent his later years largely out of public view.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi paid tribute to him in a statement which confirmed his death, calling him “Egypt’s most faithful sons”.
“He devoted his life to the service of the nation for more than half a century … (He was) a statesman who assumed the responsibility of leading the country during a very critical period”, adds the press release, referring to the uproar after the 2011 revolution.
The European Union delegation in Cairo offered its condolences in a tweet, saying he had served Egypt for “decades in crucial roles throughout his career”.
With deep sadness, EUDEL Egypt has learned of the death of Field Marshal Mohamed Hussien Tantawy and expresses its deepest condolences to his family, friends, and to the Egyptian government and people. Tantawy has served his country for decades in crucial roles throughout his career
– EU in Egypt 🇪🇺🇪🇬 (@EUinEgypt) September 21, 2021 Sisi has declared a period of national mourning, without specifying how many days.
“I swear … this man is innocent of any blood (spilled) during this period,” Sisi said in reference to when the military was in power for over a year and was involved in the murder of demonstrators.
The continuity of the army figures after the ouster of Mubarak
Like all Egyptian leaders from the overthrow of the monarchy in 1952 until the election of Morsi in 2012, Tantawi came from the ranks of the army.
A decorated veteran of the wars against Israel in 1956, 1967 and 1973, Tantawi served as defense minister for 21 years, spanning most of Mubarak’s long presidency.
He headed the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) which ruled Egypt for a year and a half after Mubarak was ousted from power in February 2011, the second leader to fall in the Arab Spring protest movement that has swept the area.
Tantawi was too close to Mubarak to be personally popular with the protesters who led the uprising in Tahrir Square, although the military’s decision to appease protesters by deposing Mubarak gained some support for the military as that institution.
But while Tantawi sought to convey a more down-to-earth image after taking power, being photographed chatting with passers-by near Tahrir Square, many saw him as a figure of continuity seeking to preserve the privileges of the army.
From the infantryman to the head of the country
Born in 1935 and of Nubian origin, Tantawi began his career as an infantryman in 1956 during the Suez Crisis, a post he held during the 1967 and 1973 wars against Israel.
He was Egyptian Minister of Defense and Military Production for 21 years and became head of the army in 1995.
Tantawi has often been seen as a possible presidential candidate after Mubarak’s ouster, but his age and stated health worked against him.
Those who knew him believed he probably would not have met the growing democratic aspirations of the Egyptians after Mubarak’s ouster.
‘Charming but resistant to change’
A March 2008 US diplomatic cable posted on the activist website WikiLeaks described Tantawi as “charming and courteous” but also “aged and resistant to change.”
“He and Mubarak are focused on the stability of the regime and maintaining the status quo until the end of their mandate,” the cable warned.
The military has been widely praised for allowing anti-Mubarak protests during the uprising, and the junta has vowed to pave the way “for an elected civilian authority to build a free democratic state.”
But the joy of millions of protesters quickly turned to anger, accusing the military of dragging its feet by launching democratic reforms.
Morsi, less than two months after his election as head of Egypt in June 2012, sacked Tantawi and, inevitably, replaced him with the then chief of military intelligence, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Sisi then toppled Morsi after street protests against the Islamist regime’s only year of division and himself became president in 2014.
After his dismissal, Tantawi largely kept a low profile, even though he was seen attending the inauguration of the “New Suez Canal” in 2015.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)