Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, 85, Dies; Led Egypt After Mubarak’s Fall

Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the Egyptian general who took charge of the country when Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down amid the 2011 Arab Spring uprising, died on Tuesday. He was 85.

His death was announced by Egypt’s presidency. Field Marshal Tantawi, who had been ill for several months, died in a hospital in Cairo, according to a person close to his family.

Field Marshal Tantawi, Mr. Mubarak’s defense minister for some 20 years, was chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which took power after Mr. Mubarak’s ouster. Known to be unquestioningly loyal to the former president, he oversaw a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters that continued under Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt’s current president. General el-Sisi’s government has since rolled back many of the freedoms won in 2011.

Field Marshal Tantawi’s death came 19 months after Mr. Mubarak died in a Cairo military hospital.

Mohamed Hussein Tantawi Soliman was born in Cairo on Oct. 31, 1935.

He fought in the 1956 Suez crisis and the 1967 and 1973 wars with Israel. He became defense minister in 1991, two years after Mr. Mubarak removed Field Marshal Abdul-Halim Abu Ghazalah, reportedly because of his growing popularity.

Field Marshal Tantawi ran Egypt for 17 months, from Feb. 11, 2011, when Mr. Mubarak stepped down, until the election of Mohammed Morsi in June 2012.

After a short honeymoon, relations grew increasingly hostile between the ruling generals and the pro-democracy movement that had led the 18-day uprising against Mr. Mubarak.

In one of the most violent incidents, in October 2011, armored military vehicles ran over protesters participating in a sit-in in front of the headquarters of state television, killing several. This marked the beginning of a fierce campaign to crush dissent, resulting in the death of dozens at the hands of security forces in street skirmishes and the arrest of hundreds, many of them civil society leaders.

Youth groups that had engineered the uprising against Mr. Mubarak accused Field Marshal Tantawi of employing the same violent tactics as his predecessor. Dismay at police brutality had been a rallying cry of the 2011 uprising. But under Field Marshal Tantawi, the military grew in power.

Field Marshal Tantawi, right, with Mr. Mubarak in 2001.Credit…Agence France-Presse, via Mena

Mistreatment of detainees in government custody continued, many of them arrested on trumped-up charges. More than 10,000 civilians were sentenced by military tribunals.

Field Marshal Tantawi and the military’s supreme council enjoyed lukewarm support from the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s most powerful Islamist group, before a standoff between the military and the group reached its height in 2012.

The Muslim Brotherhood had long been oppressed under Mr. Mubarak. The group won the elections held after his fall. First they gained a majority in parliament, then Mr. Morsi squeaked to victory in presidential elections held in 2012, becoming the first civilian to hold that office.

But a court dissolved the Brotherhood-led parliament, and the generals granted themselves legislative and budgetary authority and control over the process of drafting a new constitution. They also put severe limits on the president’s authority just days before Mr. Morsi, who had been a member of the Brotherhood, was sworn in as president in June 2012.

Only two months later, Mr. Morsi used an attack by militants on troops in the Sinai Peninsula to remove Field Marshal Tantawi, along with the chief of staff, Sami Enan. He named General el-Sisi, who at the time was head of military intelligence, as defense minister. General el-Sisi would eventually oversee Mr. Morsi’s removal from power amid more street protests.

Field Marshal Tantawi is survived by his wife and two sons.

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