CAIRO — Egypt's military ruler said Thursday the country is going through a critical period, particularly on the security and economic fronts, and called for national unity to achieve a democratic state under civilian rule.
Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, delivering a televised address to mark the 1973 war against Israel, also said disagreements and mistrust have plagued the period following the uprising that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak in February. Protesters and political groups have widely criticized Tantawi for his reluctance to implement sweeping changes and dismantle elements of the former regime.
"Egypt is going through a critical period of its history. It is witnessing a comprehensive transformation of its national course ... as changes and crises loom in the horizon," Tantawi said. "People, despite their different political and nonpolitical orientations, must realize the ramifications and what it takes to get out of that rough road."
"Our great people ... will be able to get over this critical and decisive phase of its history by agreeing on national goals, and protecting its unity and seeking a modern civil state based on sound democratic principles," he said.
He added that the ruling generals are working to overcome disagreements and mistrust that have plagued the transitional period, and address the looming economic and security problems.
Government officials have been sounding alarm bells about worsening economic indicators in Egypt since the revolt that toppled Mubarak on Feb. 11. They point to declining foreign reserves and tourism revenues, as well as a growing trend among local investors to withhold their cash because of uncertainty over the nation's political and economic future.
A rise in crime and lawless has raised tensions in Egypt, where security forces have yet to redeploy in full since disappearing from the streets during the mass uprising.
Complicating the situation is growing mistrust between Egypt's news political actors and the ruling generals, who took over from Mubarak in February. Activists and political groups are increasingly critical of the generals' management of the transitional period, which they promised it would be a six-month period.
Eight months since Mubarak's fall, the military rulers have yet to give a clear timetable of their plan for handing over power. Instead, they have floated a proposal which would hold presidential elections by late next year. This prompted several presidential hopefuls to propose their own demands, asking the military to arrange for presidential elections by April.
Tantawi dismissed such claims on Wednesday, insisting the military rulers have no intentions of clinging to power.
Tantawi's speech Thursday also provided him the opportunity to praise the role of the country's armed forces, in the face of rising criticism of the military rulers. During the 1973 war, the Egyptian military recovered from its stinging defeat in the 1967 Mideast conflict — when Israel captured the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights, the West Bank and east Jerusalem — to attack the Israeli military and restore Egyptians' faith in their military.
Fighter jets soared over the Nile in downtown Cairo to commemorate the anniversary Thursday, leaving a trail of red, blue and white smoke.
"A salute to the great Egyptian people who were patient, and put up with burdens and challenges, and supporting its Armed Forces, trusting that its stronghold," he said.
Some Egyptians, however, chose to commemorate the event with a visit to Mubarak, who was the nation's air force chief during the 1973 conflict, at the hospital where he is staying during his trial over his alleged role in the killing of hundreds of protesters during the uprising.
Dozens of his supporters brought flowers and banners, one of which called Mubarak "The leader of war and peace," a security official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.