Profile: Mohammed Hussein Tantawi

  • Published
Field Marshal Mohamad Hussain Tantawi visiting Tahrir Square, Cairo (30 January 2011)
Image caption,
Like all Egypt's leaders since 1952, Field Marshal Tantawi had a strong military background

The head of Egypt's Higher Military Council, Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, has been replaced by the country's new President Mohammed Mursi, after 17 years in office.

Field Marshal Tantawi was Egypt's acting head of state after Hosni Mubarak resigned from the presidency last year amid mass street protests.

Born in 1935, and of Nubian origin, Field Marshal Tantawi was far from a fresh face for the Egyptian leadership.

He was a long-time trusted associate of Mr Mubarak, and, like all Egyptian presidents since the 1952 revolution that overthrew the monarchy, Field Marshal Tantawi had a strong military background.

He started out as an infantryman in 1956 and went on to study for a master's degree in military science. He served in the 1956 Suez Crisis and the 1967 and 1973 Middle East wars, all against Israel.

In 1991, following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, he was on the coalition side for the first Gulf War. He received Kuwait Liberation medals from Egypt, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

He served in the Egyptian government as minister of defence and military production for 21 years and became general commander for the armed forces in 1995.


Image caption,
Protesters are calling for Tantawi to go

Field Marshal Tantawi was often discussed as a possible runner for the presidency. However, many thought that his age and reported ill health were barriers against him. He was also said to lack political ambition and support among the armed services' rank and file.

A US diplomatic cable from March 2008 published by Wikileaks described Field Marshal 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 read.

While this called into question Field Marshal Tantawi's reformist credentials, the Higher Military Council moved quickly to reassure Egypt's demonstrators that it would respect their "legitimate demands" following the fall of Hosni Mubarak.

In another communique, the council also said it would "remain committed to all its regional and international treaties," implicitly confirming the landmark 1979 peace treaty with Israel would stay intact - providing reassurances for Washington and Israel.

The army was widely praised for allowing the massive protests to unfold and eventually for shepherding Mr Mubarak out of power.

It was seen as a unifying force on the streets, less brutal and corrupt than the interior ministry police or pro-Mubarak gangs.

It helped Field Marshal Tantawi enjoy a short honeymoon with his people.

However, this later expired amid anger over the slow pace of democratic reforms in Egypt.

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