But outside the centers of protest, the military still is widely praised in the provinces as the country's most respected institution. Many Egyptians, struggling and worried about their livelihoods, are suspicious of activists and regard the demonstrations as dangerous diversions. Tantawi's speech was partially aimed at keeping the support of this audience.
"Some have tried to drag us [the military] into confrontations, and we dealt with difficulties and offenses and defamation," he said. "But we didn't respond to such attempts and were always and still are committed to the highest degrees of self-control."
The armed forces' reputation has been tainted by arrests and military trials of thousands of civilians, including political bloggers. It has been further damaged in recent days by the harsh tactics of riot police, who have been accused of excessive force including using live ammunition against protesters.
Amnesty International said Egypt's military rulers are responsible for a "catalog of abuses which in some cases exceeds the record of Hosni Mubarak."
Tantawi did not give a date when the new interim Cabinet would replace the government of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf. But some protesters credited the field marshal for making concessions and attempting to get the country back under control.
"I don't want to judge the new Cabinet before it's even appointed and we should also be happy for the setting of a deadline for presidential elections," said Ahmed Amer, an accountant. "People shouldn't be too hasty with their demands. We have to be honest when saying that we can't afford toppling [the military] and leaving the country without any ruling authority."
Hassan is a news assistant in The Times' Cairo bureau.