Egypt's former military ruler Tantawi, key player in Mubarak overthrow, dies aged 85

© Reuters/Amr Dalsh FILE PHOTO: Field Marshal Tantawi attends a meeting with Egypt’s president Mursi and U.S. Secretary of Defense Panetta at the presidential palace in Cairo

CAIRO (Reuters) – Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the former head of the military council that ruled Egypt temporarily after the 2011 uprising, has 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 defence minister for nearly 21 years.

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

Tantawi was too close to Mubarak to be personally popular with protesters who led the uprising in Tahrir Square, even though the army’s move to appease the demonstrators by deposing Mubarak won the military their gratitude as an institution.

But desire for change and respect for the troops under Tantawi’s command trumped concerns many had when he took power.

Tantawi was sacked as defence minister in August 2012, a few weeks after the Islamist Mohamed Mursi became president in what was described as the first free and fair elections in Egypt’s modern history.

Tantawi then disappeared from view until President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi came to power after leading the army to overthrow Mursi in 2013 amid mass protests. He was honoured by Sisi and used to appear beside him in various public events.

Sisi mourned Tantawi in a statement and offered condolences to his family.

Tantawi was “a leader and a statesman who took the responsibility of running the country during a very difficult period, during which he wisely and competently confronted the looming dangers that surrounded Egypt,” the statement said.

The general command of the armed forces and cabinet also mourned the former military leader.

(Reporting by Cairo Bureau; Writing by Mahmoud Mourad; Editing by Catherine Evans and Angus MacSwan)

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