Middle East

Tantawi says Egypt in sensitive stage

Protesters walk past a placard depicting Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi in Cairo, 30 September 2011.
Image caption There has been growing criticism of Egypt's military rulers

Egypt's military leader has said the country is undergoing a "sensitive stage" in its history, and called for people to "rally round national goals".

Speaking on the anniversary of the 1973 war with Israel, Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi said he was confident Egyptians could build a "strong modern state".

Earlier, six presidential candidates appealed to military rulers to accelerate the timetable for elections.

The call came amidst growing criticism of Egypt's military rulers.

"The anniversary of October comes as Egypt is passing through a sensitive stage of history," Field Marshal Tantawi said in a televised address.

He said the uprising that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak earlier this year had led to "looming changes and crises that require people, with all their political and non-political trends, to realise the consequences of this stage, how to overcome it and its hardships".

"We are confident in the ability of the people to build a strong modern state," he added.

Rumours dismissed

Egypt's interim military rulers initially proposed a transition period of six months, and many activists suspect they are trying to draw out the transition and hang onto power.

On Wednesday, six presidential candidates called on military rulers to accelerate the election timetable and hold presidential elections by the end of April.

Under the current timetable the military council may not hand over power until late 2012 or early 2013.

The candidates also appealed for parliamentary polls to be shortened.

The call for a faster handover was made by three Islamist candidates - Salim al-Awa, Abdel Monseim Aboul Fotouh and Hazem Abu Ismail - as well as former Arab League chief Amr Moussa, former judge Hisham Bastawisi and left-winger Hamdin Sabbahi.

Mohammed ElBaradei, the former head of the UN nuclear agency and liberal candidate, was not a signatory.

Parliamentary and senate elections are currently due to last from 28 November until 11 March, but Mr Awa said they should instead be completed by 30 January.

"Don't let this drag on, so that we don't lose all hope," said Mr Ismail.

Field Marshal Tantawi appeared to brush aside the candidates' concerns.

"The military council has no interest in staying [in power] for a long time," he said.

"Given the chance, the military council will step down tomorrow."

But he also said: "We will not abandon Egypt before we finish what we pledged to do and committed ourselves to before the people."

Egypt's military leader dismissed rumours that the army would put forward a candidate.

The speculation had been fuelled by the former defence minister's appearance in civilian clothes during a recent walk around central Cairo.

"These are rumours that are not worthy of stopping to consider, and neither should we spend time talking about them," Field Marshal Tantawi said.