Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the former head of the military council that temporarily ruled Egypt after the 2011 uprising, died at the age of 85.
Tantawi, a decorated veteran of Israel’s wars in 1956, 1967, and 1973, served as the country’s defence minister for nearly two decades.
After the removal of long-term President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, he led the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which ruled Egypt for a year and a half.
Tantawi was fired as Egypt’s defence minister in August 2012, just weeks after the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi was elected president in what was hailed as the first free and fair elections in the country’s modern history. He has spent the majority of his remaining years largely hidden from public view.
Tantawi “died today, Tuesday, after giving a lot” to his country, according to an online report confirmed to AFP news agency by a military official speaking on condition of anonymity by the government newspaper Akhbar al-Youm.
Tantawi, who was born in 1935 and is of Nubian descent, joined the army in 1956 as an infantryman. He fought against Israel in the 1956 Suez War and the 1967 and 1973 Middle East wars.
After taking power, Egypt’s military government quickly stated that it would remain “committed” to its regional and international treaties, implying that the country’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel would be upheld.
After Iraq’s Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1991, Tantawi fought alongside the US-led coalition in the first Gulf War. In 1995, he was promoted to army chief of staff.
Despite being a close associate of Mubarak’s, Tantawi caved in to public pressure and charged Mubarak with inciting the deaths of hundreds of protesters during the 2011 uprising.
After Mubarak was deposed, Tantawi was widely considered a possible presidential candidate, but his age and reported ill health worked against him.
Those who knew him believed he would have failed to meet Egyptians’ growing democratic aspirations after Mubarak’s ouster.
Tantawi was described as “charming and courtly” but also “aged and change-resistant” in a March 2008 US diplomatic cable published on the activist website WikiLeaks.
“Both he and Mubarak are intent on maintaining regime stability and the status quo until the end of their terms. The cable warned, “They simply do not have the energy, inclination, or worldview to do anything differently.”
Mubarak died in a Cairo military hospital in February last year, 19 months after he died. During the uprising, the army was widely praised for allowing anti-Mubarak protests, and the military government promised to pave the way for “an elected civil authority to build a free democratic state.”
Demonstrators praised the military as a unifying national force that was less brutal and corrupt than the interior ministry police or pro-Mubarak thugs who attacked their marches.
However, their joy quickly turned to rage as they accused the military of being slow to implement democratic reforms.
Morsi fired Tantawi less than two months after becoming Egypt’s president in June 2012, and fatefully replaced him with Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the then-military intelligence chief.
After street protests against the Muslim Brotherhood’s one-year rule, El-Sisi overthrew Morsi and became president in 2014.