Field Marshal Field Marshal Tantawi has issued a "letter to the Egyptian people" expressing the SCAF’s increasingly defensive posture, but at the same time appearing to yield ground to protesters by offering to immediately hand over power "if the people demand it through a legislative referendum." The full text of the statement is available in Arabic on the SCAF’s official website. Here is a breakdown of the key points:
- After an initial preamble offering condolences to the families of the victims, Tantawi recalled the SCAF’s support for the democratic demands of protesters starting on January 25 and referred to the military’s "engrained creed as an integral part of the Egyptian people."
- Tantawi claimed that the SCAF "has never aspired to ascend the throne of power."
- He insisted that "we have never fired a bullet at an Egyptian citizen."
- "Our first priority since the beginning of the transitional period has been the restoration of security."
- Tantawi praised the military’s patience and determination, and blamed continued unrest on subversive elements that have "tried to drag us into confrontations and we have endured hardships, smears and defamation — yet we have not responded to these attempts and have always been and remain committed to maximum restraint."
- Tantawi claimed, "The SCAF does not care who will win the elections or be the new president. All this is subject to the will of the people."
- "The army totally rejects attempts to undermine it or question its reputation."
- The SCAF is committed to conducting parliamentary elections as scheduled followed by a presidential election before the end of June 2011.
- Tantawi concluded, "The SCAF does not aspire to rule and puts the interest of the country above all else. The military is fully prepared to hand over power immediately and return to its original mandate to protest the homeland if the people demand through a legislative referendum."
This is not the first time the SCAF has offered to relinquish power by referendum. On November 22, amid the last groundswell of anti-military activism,Tantawi pledged to give up power if put to a popular vote, using almost identical language. The SCAF certainly won’t win back the hearts and minds with fire hoses and batons. Looking at the front page of Tahrir newspaper — which proclaims the SCAF "liars" — it’s clear that the public has run out of patience with the SCAF’s empty promises.