Egypt woke up this morning to news that Field Marshal Muhammad Hussein Tantawi had departed our world in the early hours of the day, aged 85. He had been in poor health during the last three months. He is survived by a wife and two sons.
Tantawi was born in 1935 in Cairo to a family of a Nubian father who was an employee. He graduated from the Egyptian military academy in 1956, and made a name as a decorated war hero who fought in three wars against Israel: in 1956, 1967, and 1973. In 1991 he was made Minister of Defence and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces by President Hosny Mubarak, and was promoted to Field Marshal two years later.
Field Marshal Tantawi headed Egypt’s Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) which ruled the country from February 2011 when President Hosny Mubarak stepped down in the wake of the Arab Spring uprising, and until June 2012 when Egypt’s new [Islamist] President Muhammad Mursi took office.
In August 2012, President Mursi removed Tantawi from his positions as Minister of Defence and head of SCAF.
When Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi became President of Egypt in June 2014, he honoured Field Marshal Tantawi and appeared with him on a number of public occasions.
Today, President Sisi declared three days of public mourning in honour of Field Marshal Tantawi, and announced that a major air base east of Cairo would be named after him.
The President mourned Tantawi, posting on his Facebook page: “Today I lost a father figure, a teacher, a man who was a role model in faithfully serving his country, of whom I learned dedicated service. Field Marshal Muhammad Hussein Tantawi confronted the most perilous challenges Egypt faced in her modern history. I knew him as a man who loved Egypt and was staunchly loyal to her people.” President Sisi offered his heartfelt condolences to the Egyptian people and the Field Marshal’s family, praying that Allah would give them comfort.
As he opened a number of national projects during the day, the President spoke of the Field Marshal as the remarkable man who saved Egypt during the difficult, tumultuous times from February 2011 to June 2012 when he ran the country. “This man is innocent of any bloodshed” the President said, “… the blood spilt [during the lawlessness and unrest that took place] during that period of conspiracy to bring down the State, I swear to God he is innocent of it.”
“Field Marshal Tantawi,” President Sisi said, “used to say that running Egypt was like holding a burning coal in your hand, it burned you, but it was unthinkable to free your hand and drop it.”
Egypt’s Armed Forces issued a statement mourning Field Marshal Tantawi, “one of her great sons, a leader of the glorious October War [in 1973], and former Minister of Defence. We offer our profound condolences to his family and to the officers and soldiers of the Armed Forces, asking God to show mercy to his soul and to comfort his loved ones.”
Tributes to Field Marshal Tantawi flowed from the Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers, university presidents, heads of civil society organisations, leaders of religious bodies, and public officials and figures.
For her part, the Coptic Orthodox Church headed by Pope Tawadros II issued a statement mourning Field Marshal Tantawi who “had served this country faithfully in all the positions he held. He served among the ranks of the military in several wars, and as Defence Minister for some 30 years during which he worked to build the capacities of the Egyptian army, also as part of the leadership of the country at a crucial period in her history.” The Church offered condolences to the leadership and members of the military, and to the Field Marshal’s family and loved ones.
This afternoon saw President Sisi lead a military funeral for Field Marshall Tantawi from the mosque that carries his name in the East Cairo satellite town of Tagammu al-Khamis.
21 September 2021