Al-Ahram Weekly Online   29 September - 5 October 2011
Issue No. 1066
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Suit and tie

Controversy over Field Marshal Tantawi's downtown tour on foot continues

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Tantawi's downtown tour

Hours after approving the controversial second constitutional declaration, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, decided to take a brisk walk in busy downtown Cairo. When he showed up, hundreds of Egyptians hurried to see him, shake his hand and air their demands, Mohamed Abdel-Baky reports.

Tantawi is the chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) which has ruled the country since former president Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down on 11 February.

Video footage aired on Egyptian state-run TV showed Tantawi walking in downtown Cairo on Monday night wearing a dark suit and with no security in sight. An official said that Tantawi was in Dokki attending an unofficial event and then decided to walk alone.

The video was taken by an Egyptian journalist who said that he was there by chance and decided to send the video to Egyptian TV to one his friends who works as a producer in the Mubasher daily talk show.

Without any apparent security detail, Tantawi walked along Qasr Al-Nil Street shaking hands with and smiling to surprised passers-by, giving many observers the impression that he is in campaign mode.

More than one theory is making the rounds over Tantawi's tour. The official line adopted by Minister of Information Osama Heikal said that the tour had an important political message.

"He wants to show that security has been restored to the streets and the proof is that the head of the country is walking in the downtown area without security," Heikal said in an interview with the Misr Al-Gadida talk show aired on the private channel Al-Hayat.

Heikal added that the Egyptian media and the activists are exaggerating their response to the tour. He said Tantawi had taken similar tours in the last few months to ensure that there is law and order on the street.

During the height of the revolution, Tantawi visited Tahrir Square for a few minutes to greet protesters and to show support for them. At the time he was wearing his military uniform. Experts then said that he wanted to tell the people in Tahrir that the military is supporting their revolution.

Hassan Nafaa, a senior member of the National Association for Change (NAC), agreed with the official theory that Tantawi's visit does not mean that he wants to run for president.

"Neither his policies in the last few months nor his health show that he wants to run for president," said Nafaa, who has opposed the SCAF's policies in the last several months.

He added that Tantawi might have wanted to make the public believe that security has returned to the street and might also have wanted to get the sense of how the people think about the military.

The second theory is that Tantawi wanted to test how the people feel about him if he runs for president. Activists adopt this theory, saying that the field marshal wanted to compare what he will hear from ordinary folks and how that will be interpreted in the Egyptian media.

Essam Sultan, the deputy chairman of the Wassat Party, said that Tantawi's tour came at a time when there are many indicators that the SCAF wants to remain in power.

Sultan said that some political parties are calling the SCAF to stay in power for more time in order to be prepared for the elections which might in turn give the head of the SCAF reason to test how the man on the street is thinking.

Following the tour, several Facebook groups were created criticising Tantawi, including 'Over my dead body Tantawi', and 'No to civilian clothes for military officers'.

"We congratulate Tantawi for his new civilian suit, but regarding this whole issue about him being able to lead the country, we want to tell him if you love Egypt, forget it," said writer Belal Fadl, in his Facebook page.

The SCAF has promised to hand over power to civilians as soon as possible but it is not clear when the military intends to withdraw. Political forces have called on the SCAF to announce a timetable that includes the parliamentary and presidential elections.

Many youth movements and political groups are holding a mass protest tomorrow to call for the end of military rule. Some have been calling on Tantawi to step down.

Tantawi's late night walkabout came two days after he gave closed-door testimony at Mubarak's murder trial, which was criticised on social networking sites when details were leaked.

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