Egypt is facing unprecedented “grave dangers” but its military will protect it, military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi said in remarks published on Wednesday which appeared aimed at rallying public opinion against a wave of protests planned for next week.
Tantawi’s comments also seemed to be a thinly veiled warning to the activists behind last year's Jan. 25-Feb. 11 uprising that toppled authoritarian president Hosni Mubarak.
The activists are now calling on the military to step down immediately, and accuse the ruling generals of botching the transition to civilian rule, killing at least 80 protesters since October, torturing detainees and hauling at least 12,000 civilians before military tribunals for trial.
Activists plan to stage a wave of protests to mark next week’s first anniversary of the start of the uprising. The state-run media has responded with a media campaign warning of a plot to destabilize the nation on the anniversary.
Tantawi’s talk of unspecified “grave dangers” facing the nation and of the military’s resolve to counter them harks back to the Mubarak-era, when officials frequently sought to shift attention away from domestic problems with warnings of conspiracies against the country by local agents of foreign powers.
“Egypt is facing grave dangers it had not seen before,” Tantawi said. Calling on Egyptians to foil the “schemes and conspiracies” against Egypt, he said: “The armed forces is the backbone that protects Egypt. These schemes are aimed at targeting that backbone. We will not allow it and will carry out our task perfectly to hand over the nation to an elected civilian administration.’
Activists claim that Tantawi and the rest of the generals sitting on the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces are an extension of Mubarak's 29-year regime and remain beholden to the former president whose consent was essential to their promotion through the ranks.
Tantawi himself was Mubarak’s defense minister for 20 years, during which he was widely considered to be unquestioningly loyal to his patron.
The military has said it intended to hand over power to an elected president by the end of June, but many suspect the military will not easily give up the political dominance it has enjoyed ever since army officers seized power in a coup nearly 60 years ago.
Critics of the generals say they hope to promote an ex-officer or an ally, to shield the military’s budget, economic interests and behind-the-scenes political leverage from civilian scrutiny.