Field Marshal Tantawi for President of Egypt?

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Egypt's de facto ruler walked around Cairo Monday night as state television touted Tantawi's presidential material

Tantawi TV.jpg

Tantawi caught on film strolling Cairo in a suit / YouTube

CAIRO, Egypt -- Egypt's de facto ruler, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, broadcast a downtown walkabout on Monday night that looked suspiciously like a floater for a presidential campaign. Tantawi, the long-time defense minister and head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, has avoided the limelight since taking charge of the country in February.

He was famously tagged "Mubarak's poodle" by a U.S. diplomatic official in a Wikileaks cable. This weekend, he came under fire for his Reaganesque testimony in Mubarak's trial, during which he seemed to have no recollection of anything that happened between January 25 and February 11 of this year.

"I have no idea what happened," Tantawi said when asked about the chain of command during the killing of demonstrators, according to leaked testimony tweeted by Egyptian journalists willing to risk jail time by breaking the ban on covering Mubarak's trial.

Imagine the surprise then on Monday night when an Egyptian TV channel broadcast footage of Tantawi, in a civilian suit rather than his uniform, strolling through downtown Cairo. A commentator on the state-run network touted Tantawi as great presidential material for the period after military rule.

The Democracy ReportThere's already a large protest planned this Friday against the military's decision to extend the state of emergency, which was supposed to lapse this month, until the summer of 2012. Judging by the outpouring of commentary, jokes, and stories, Tantawi's walk might have jangled enough nerves to boost turnout.

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Thanassis Cambanis, a columnist at The Boston Globe and a regular contributor to The New York Times, is writing a book about Egypt's revolutionaries. He is a fellow at The Century Foundation, teaches at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, and blogs at thanassiscambanis.com. He is also the author of A Privilege to Die: Inside Hezbollah's Legions and Their Endless War Against Israel.

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