Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi
Under Mubarak, Egypt’s military enjoyed unchecked prestige and power, running many of the country’s most lucrative industries and taking advantage of officially enshrined exemptions from the rule of law. Yet the Army ultimately took a neutral stance during the revolution, refusing to fire on protesters as Mubarak’s rule crumbled—and then stepped in to take his place.
After Mubarak’s fall, a ruling council of generals, calling themselves the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, led by the 82-year-old Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, announced that they would guide the country through its democratic transition. But the generals always seemed uncomfortable in their new roles and eventually lost the trust of revolutionaries by pushing back election dates and subjecting protesters to military trials, sparking widespread protests. (In some of the revolutionary chants from last year, the name Mubarak was merely replaced by that of Tantawi.)
When Morsi was elected president, Tantawi and the generals stepped back into the shadows—though Morsi clearly worried about their continued influence. In August he unexpectedly forced Tantawi and other leading generals into retirement, replacing them with younger and lower-ranking officers who seemed more loyal to the brotherhood. Since then the once powerful generals have kept quiet, but speculation is rife that they were unhappy with the early retirement. “General Tantawi is an older man, but he still has a lot of vim and vigor,” says Paul Sullivan of the National Defense University in Washington, D.C. “My sense is that Tantawi likely has some resentment brewing at being so summarily dismissed by someone he likely has little respect for.”
During the recent unrest, the Army has remained quiet—but Sullivan notes that it may not stay so passive if protests degenerate into violence. “The Army is being rather acquiescent these days,” he says. “However, if the situation in Egypt gets much worse ... I cannot see how the Army could stay completely out of the situation.”