WikiLeaks: Tantawi ‘old and resistant to change’, Anan is the Future
US ambassador to Cairo gives his opinion on Muhammad Tantawi and number two general, Sami Anan
Nothing Egypt’s military council has done in its past suggests it has the capacity or inclination to introduce speedy and radical change. Guaranteed its $1.3bn (£812m) annual grant from the US — a dividend from the Camp David peace accord with Israel – it has gained the reputation as a hidebound institution with little appetite for reform.
The frustration of the military’s American benefactors shines through in leaked US cables, where the criticism focuses mostly on the man at the top, 75-year-old Field Marshal Muhammad Tantawi.
In March 2008 cable , the US ambassador to Cairo, Francis Ricciardone, described Tantawi as “aged and change-resistant”.
“Charming and courtly, he is nonetheless mired in a post-Camp David military paradigm that has served his cohort’s narrow interests for the last three decades. He and [Hosni] Mubarak are focused on regime stability and maintaining the status quo through the end of their time. They simply do not have the energy, inclination or world view to do anything differently,” it reads.
The ambassador also notes that Tantawi has used his influence in the cabinet to oppose economic and political reforms which he sees as weakening central government power.
“He is supremely concerned with national unity, and has opposed policy initiatives he views as encouraging political or religious cleavages within Egyptian society,” the cable says.
Despite Egypt’s dependence on US military funding, Tantawi seems to have viewed as standoffish by US officials. They saw the number two general on the council, Sami Anan, as more amenable to personal ties. In fact, Anan was in Washington when the Cairo protests erupted.
That puts the 62-year-old Soviet-trained chief of staff, in the unusual position of being both Washington’s and the Muslim Brotherhood’s favourite general. The movement has described him as incorruptible and as one of its cleric put it: “He can be the future man of Egypt … I think he will be acceptable.”
The other three main figures on the council have played a backseat role up to now. Air Marshal Reda Mohamed, the head of the air force, Lt General Seif-Eldeein, the head of air defence, and the head of the navy, Vice-Admiral Mohab Mamish, are all in their late 50s or early 60s and have strong US connections. But they do not surface in the US cables as political players.