The Military Council Will Not Let Go of Power after Elections
This week, two huge, unsigned posters appeared on the walls of central Cairo and Alexandria, featuring Field Marshal Muhammad Tantawi, the head of the Supreme Military Council ruling Egypt until elections, under the slogan: "The people demand stability."
The poster was clearly promoting Tantawi, 76, as the next President of the Egyptian Republic.
Mahmud Atiyah, who identified himself to Egyptian and Western journalists as the man behind these posters, said he was acting on behalf of Egypt's silent majority, which had rejected all the candidates and political parties running for office as corrupt or in the service of foreign governments.
According to Atiya, Tantawi was free of both taints and therefore best qualified to rule a democratic Egypt.
However, a military spokesman in Cairo was quick to deny any connection between the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and Mahmud Atiyah. "We don't know him and he didn't ask us to approve his campaign," he said.
But people were skeptical. They recalled that a month ago, Tantawi had gone around Cairo streets in civilian clothes shaking hands with passersby in the best electioneering tradition. At the time, the field marshal was said to have gone around without uniform or guards after a private visit to show the people that the streets were safe.
His associates say he has no desire for high office and is waiting to transfer rule from the armed forces to democratically-elected government.
Two or three generals in the running for president
At the same time, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources in Cairo, there is a gap between Tantawi's wishes and the ambitions of the 25 generals of the SCAF. They are deeply reluctant to let go of power. To stay at the helm, they are willing to come to terms with the forces controlling the Egyptian street, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, without however granting any political force full freedom. So, even after parliamentary elections at the end of November produce a government, the military intends to stay in control.
The generals are now working on a formula acceptable to the major political parties for retaining key powers such as the conduct of foreign and defense policies and handing civilian government responsibility only for economic and domestic affairs.
Failing an understanding on a division of authority on these lines, the supreme military council will field its own candidate for president. He will be chosen from a list that includes former chief of staff Lt. General Majdi Hatata and Maj. Gen. Ahmad Bilal, who led the Egyptian contingent participating in the second Gulf War, rebelled against Mubarak and asked to be relieved from this mission. Tantawi may change his mind and decide to run after all.
The election of an ex-military figure would take Egypt back to the days Hosni Mubarak, the former air force chief who was finally overthrown last February.
Wednesday Nov. 2, a third name popped up in an unexpected quarter, when the former Israeli Mossad chief Meir Dagan declared decisively in Tel Aviv that Egypt's next president would be Gen. Omar Suleiman, Minister of Intelligence in the toppled regime, whom Mubarak named Vice President before his fall.
Dagan was just as certain that the Muslim Brotherhood would not reach power in Egypt.