x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Tantawi warns crisis must end as Egypt braces for elections

Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi claimed "foreign hands" were behind the latest wave of unrest, an assertion similar to those made by Hosni Mubarak in his final days in power.

CAIRO // Egypt's military ruler warned of "extremely grave" consequences if the country does not pull through its current crisis and urged voters to turn out for landmark parliamentary elections tomorrow.

Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi claimed "foreign hands" were behind the latest wave of unrest, an assertion similar to those made by Hosni Mubarak in his final days in power before he was ousted in a popular uprising in February. Mr Tantawi was Mr Mubarak's defence minister for 20 years.

In comments carried by the nation's official news agency, Tantawi rejected calls for him and other generals on the ruling military council he heads to immediately step down.

"None of this would have happened if there were no foreign hands," he said. "We will not allow a small minority of people who don't understand to harm Egypt's stability."

The warning came as thousands of protesters were filling Cairo's Tahrir Square for another demonstration to push for him and the other generals to immediately return to their barracks in favour of a civilian presidential council and a "national salvation" government to run the country's affairs until a president is elected.

It was the ninth day of a revival of the protest movement that toppled Mr Mubarak. At least 41 protesters have been killed in and more than 2,000 have been wounded, most of them in Cairo.

The military took the reins of power when Mr Mubarak was ousted. But it has come under intense criticism for most of the past nine months for its failure to restore security, stop the rapid worsening of the economy or introduce the far-reaching reforms called for by the youth groups behind Mr Mubarak's fall and the continuing protest movement.

Mr Tantawi said the military will follow through with its somewhat vague road map for handing over power.

The ruling council never set a precise date for transferring authority to an elected civilian administration, only pledging that presidential elections - the last step in the handover process - will be held before the end of June, 2012.

"We will not allow troublemakers to meddle in the elections," he said. "Egypt is at a crossroads - either we succeed politically, economically and socially or the consequences will be extremely grave and we will not allow that."