Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, former head of the military council that ruled Egypt temporarily after its 2011 popular uprising, died at the age of 85, Egypt’s presidency said, declaring three days of national mourning.
President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi led mourners at a military funeral ceremony for Tantawi in a mosque bearing his name in Cairo and cannons fired 21 shots.
Tantawi – a decorated veteran of wars against Israel in 1956, 1967 and 1973 – was defence minister for 21 years, covering most of Hosni Mubarak’s presidency.
He led the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) that ruled Egypt for a 18 months after Mubarak was pushed from power in February 2011 during the Arab Spring protest.
Tantawi was too close to Mubarak to be personally popular with protesters leading the uprising in Tahrir Square, though the army’s move to appease demonstrators by deposing Mubarak won some support for the military.
Tantawi sought to project a more down-to-earth image after assuming power, pictured talking with passers-by near Tahrir Square, many saw him as a continuity figure seeking to preserve military privileges.
Tantawi was sacked as defence minister in August 2012, weeks after Islamist Mohamed Mursi became president in what was described as the first free and fair presidential election in Egypt’s modern history.
Tantawi disappeared until then-military chief Sisi took power after leading the army to overthrow Mursi in 2013 amid mass protests. Sisi became president a year later.
HONOURED BY SISI
Tantawi was honoured by Sisi, appearing with him at public events. Sisi said a major military base in east Cairo would be named after Tantawi.
In a statement, Sisi hailed Tantawi as “a statesman who took the responsibility of running the country during a difficult period”.
Sisi defended Tantawi’s time in power, which witnessed bloody incidents amid the political turmoil following the uprising.
“This man is innocent of any bloodshed, any of the things that took place during this period of conspiracy to bring down the state,” Sisi said in televised comments.
Sisi said Tantawi fretted over history’s judgment of his record as the man who handed power to Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood group in 2012.
“This issue hurt him because he understood the damage this group’s rule would cause Egypt,” Sisi said.
After Mursi’s overthrow, Sisi outlawed the Brotherhood and jailed much of its leadership.