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12 February 2011 Last updated at 17:10 ET
Egypt after Mubarak: Mohamad Hussain Tantawi profile
By Yolande Knell
BBC News, Cairo
Like all Egypt's leaders since 1952, Field Marshal Tantawi has a strong military background
Egypt's Revolution
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The head of Egypt's Higher Military Council, Mohamad Hussain Tantawi, is in control of Egypt after Hosni Mubarak resigned his post as president.
Born in 1935, and of Nubian origin, Field Marshal Tantawi is far from a fresh face for the Egyptian leadership.
He was a long-time trusted associate of Mr Mubarak. He had been appointed deputy prime minister, in addition to his post as defence minister, after the cabinet was sacked on 29 January in a failed attempt to calm mass protests.
Like all Egyptian presidents since the 1952 revolution that overthrew the monarchy, Field Marshal Tantawi has a strong military background.
He started out as an infantryman in 1956 and went on to study for a master's degree in military science. He served in the 1956 Suez Crisis and the 1967 and 1973 Middle East wars, all against Israel.
In 1991, following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, he was on the coalition side for the first Gulf War. He received Kuwait Liberation medals from Egypt, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
He has served in the Egyptian government as minister of defence and military production since 1991 and became general commander for the armed forces in 1995.
Field Marshal Tantawi was often discussed as a possible runner for the presidency. However, many thought that his age and reported ill health were barriers against him. He was also said to lack political ambition and support among the armed services' rank and file.
[Field Marshal Tantawi] embodies the reactionary forces still embedded at the heart of a regime that may have shed its figurehead but not its essence”
Shashank Joshi
Analyst, Royal United Services Institute
Viewpoint: Too early to celebrate in Egypt?
A US diplomatic cable from March 2008 published by Wikileaks described Field Marshal Tantawi as "charming and courtly" but also "aged and change-resistant".
"He and 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," the cable read.
While this calls into question Field Marshal Tantawi's reformist credentials, the Higher Military Council has moved quickly to reassure Egypt's demonstrators that it will respect their "legitimate demands".
In another communique, the council also said it would "remain committed to all its regional and international treaties," implicitly confirming the landmark 1979 peace treaty with Israel will stay intact.
This will have provided reassurances to Washington and Israel.
The army was widely praised for allowing the massive protests to unfold and eventually for shepherding Mr Mubarak out of power.
It was seen as a unifying force on the streets, less brutal and corrupt than the interior ministry police or pro-Mubarak gangs.
This may help Field Marshal Tantawi to enjoy a honeymoon with his people.
However, this will soon expire if he cannot deliver the democratic changes and civilian government that Egypt's younger generation has been calling for.
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