Egypt's Former Military Ruler Tantawi, Veteran of Wars Against Israel, Dies at 85

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Mohammed Hussein Tantawi at the Defense Ministry in Cairo, in 2011.
Mohammed Hussein Tantawi at the Defense Ministry in Cairo, in 2011.Credit: AMR NABIL / POOL / AFP

Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, former head of the military council that ruled Egypt temporarily after the 2011 uprising, died at the age of 85, Egypt's presidency said on Tuesday.

Tantawi, a decorated veteran of wars against Israel in 1956, 1967 and 1973, was a defense minister for nearly 21 years.

He led the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) that ruled Egypt for a year and half after the removal of the long term President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.

Tantawi was sacked as a defense minister in August 2012, a few weeks after the late Islamist President Mohammed Morsi took power in what was described as the first free and fair elections in Egypt's modern history.

Morsi removed Tantawi and the country's chief of staff, Sami Enan, following a deadly militant attack in the Sinai Peninsula.

Tantawi talks to anti-government protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square, February 2011.Credit: Khaled DESOUKI / AFP

Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, now president, was the head of the military intelligence at the time. Morsi named Sissi defense minister, replacing Tantawi, his longtime mentor. Sissi would eventually oversee Morsi's removal from power in 2013, amid more street protests against the Islamist's brief rule.

Tantawi was Mubarak's loyal defense minister for two decades, but it was also him who led the country after the then-chief spy Omar Suliman announced on state television on Feb. 11, 2011, that Mubarak was stepping down after the 18 days of protest against his government.

Tantawi went on to chair the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which took power. Under his leadership, the military strengthened its tight grip on the country, outlawing dissent, and largely returned to using the same tactics that were in place under Mubarak and that protesters had decried.

Born in October 1935, Tantawi, who suffered from age-related health problems in recent months, died in a hospital in Cairo, according to a person close to his family, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

Hosni Mubarak shakes hands with his Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi in Cairo, 2001.Credit: - - AFP

His death came 19 months after Mubarak died in a Cairo military hospital in February last year.

Under Tantawi and Sissi, rights groups have accused the country’s security apparatus of repeated violations, including the targeting of protesters and the arrest and detention of political opposition members and dissenting citizens.

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