Amr Nabil, Associated Press
CAIRO — Egypt's military ruler vowed on Thursday not to step down until the council of generals he heads has "fulfilled its commitments," adding that the military does not benefit from prolonging its hold on power.
Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi's comments appeared designed to debunk claims by some politicians that he and the generals of the Supreme council of the Armed Forces had no intention of handing over power to a democratic government as they promised when they took over from President Hosni Mubarak, toppled nearly eight months ago in an 18-day uprising.
"We will not abandon Egypt before we finish what we pledged to do and committed ourselves to before the people," Tantawi told reporters in comments shown on state television and carried by the country's official news agency. "The military council has no interest in staying (in power) for a long time."
"Given the chance, the military council will step down tomorrow," he said.
Many activists in the youth groups that engineered the Egyptian uprising have accused Tantawi, Mubarak's defense minister for 20 years, of being slow in dismantling the legacy of his former patron's 29-year rule and of not doing enough to stop the torture of detainees by the military.
They also accuse him of trying to steal credit for the popular uprising away from the hundreds of thousands of men and women who took to the streets across the nation during the revolt.
Last week, state television broadcast footage of Tantawi walking around downtown Cairo in civilian attire, giving rise to speculation that he might be considering a run for the country's top job. The military has given Egypt all of its four presidents since young officers seized power in a 1952 coup that toppled the country's monarchy. It has since been Egypt's most powerful and secretive institution.
But on Wednesday, Tantawi denied that the military intended to nominate one of its own for the president's job.
"These are rumors that are not worthy of stopping to consider, and neither should we spend time talking about them," he said.
However, there are lucrative benefits the military could gain by holding on to power or at least have one of its men grab the country's top job.
There has been intense speculation that a civilian with a military background, like a retired general, would be the army's preferred choice for president. Such a figure would be loyal to the military, foiling, for example, any attempt to bring the armed forces and its budget under parliamentary scrutiny.
Alternately, the military could insist on a political role as a "guardian" of the nation in a new constitution due to be drafted next year, giving the top generals a collective say in all key policies.
Three Egyptian columnists and a film critic, meanwhile, withheld their regular commentaries in an independent daily on Wednesday to protest what they said was censorship by the country's military rulers.
The four — Belal Fadl, Omer Taher, Nagla Bedir and Tareq el-Shinawy — left their columns blank, publishing only a few words explaining their decision.
"I withhold my writing today to protest the barring, impounding of newspapers and the presence there of military censorship," the four wrote in place of their columns.
One of the four writers, Fadl, said the protest was meant to send a "symbolic message" that censorship was not the ideal way to deal with the press.
"It is no longer acceptable. The solution is to correct mistakes by allowing more freedom and to raise the professional standard of journalists," he told The Associated Press. "Our protest does not reflect a desire to have absolute freedom for the press without any controls."
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