From general to de-facto president: the life of Egypt's Field Marshal Mohamad Hussein Tantawi

From general to de-facto president: the life of Egypt's Field Marshal Mohamad Hussein Tantawi
Field Marshal Mohamad Hussein Tantawi, Egypt's first de facto leader after the Mubarak era, has passed away at the age of 85. The New Arab takes a look back at his life and legacy.
2 min read
Egypt - Cairo
21 September, 2021
Field Marshal Mohamad Hussein Tantawi served under four Egyptian premiers before being appointed the first de facto rule in the post-Mubarak era [Getty]

Former Head of Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) Field Marshal Mohamad Hussein Tantawi passed away Tuesday aged 85.

His death was announced by Cairo on Tuesday, which remembered his time as a military man during Egypt's past conflicts and in peace.

"Egypt lost…[also] the ex-former general commander of the Armed Forces and minister of defence and military production…one of its most loyal sons and a military idol, who had served his country for more than 50 years," read a presidential statement.

"Tantawi was one of the heroes of the glorious October war… a statesman who ran the country in a most difficult time, confronting with wisdom the [threats] surrounding [the country]." 

Born in Cairo in 1935, Tantawi was one of the only high-ranking army officers of Nubian origin. He graduated from the military academy in 1956 and, later, from the command and staff college in the same year.

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Tantawi served during the reigns of four late presidents: Gamal Abdel-Nasser, Anwar Sadat, Hosni Mubarak, and briefly, Mohamed Morsi.

He took part in several wars including the 1967 War with Israel, the War of Attrition as well as the 6 October War in 1973, serving as the commander of a combat unit in the infantry.

In 1988, Tantawi was appointed as the head of the presidential guard. Three years later, he served as the defence minister and the general commander of the armed forces. In 1993, Mubarak awarded him the rank of field marshal.

On 11 February 2011, following an 18-day anti-regime uprising, Tantawi became the "de facto" head of Egypt after Mubarak stepped down, assigning the country to the military junta, SCAF.

In August 2012, Morsi issued a decree that saw Tantawi retire and ending his career in the army. Tantawi kept a low profile till the day he died.

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Being the head of SCAF at that time, Tantawi's name was tainted by several atrocities including the referral of thousands of Islamists and pro-democracy activists - who initiated the 2011 revolution - to military trials whose verdicts cannot be appealed.

He also headed the army when peaceful protesters were killed by security forces on more than one occasion. Female protesters were also forced to undergo virginity tests during his tenure as army chief, which stirred the outcry of the international community.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, who came to power following a military coup in 2013, said Tantawi was "the reason why Egypt didn't fall at [the post revolution] stage".

In his brief speech, Sisi used the opportunity to slam the Muslim Brotherhood, designated a terrorist group in Egypt.