Breaking free, Egypt´s President Mursi removes generals (REUTERS) By Edmund Blair CAIRO, EGYPT 08/12/12 5:50pm EDT)
Reuters News Service
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(Reuters) - Egypt´s Islamist President Mohamed Mursi dismissed
Cairo´s two top generals and quashed a military order that had curbed
the new leader´s powers, in a move that further stamped his authority
on the country and its army.
There had been much debate over the fate of Field Marshal Hussein
Tantawi, 76, who until Mursi´s election in June had ruled Egypt as
head of a military council since Hosni Mubarak was toppled last year.
The timing of Sunday´s announcement to replace him as armed forces
head was nevertheless a surprise.
However, an embarrassing debacle for the army on the border with
Israel, where 16 Egyptian troops were killed by Islamist militants a
week ago, may have given Mursi the opening he needed to step up the
pace in rolling back the military´s influence, pushing aside Tantawi
and military chief of staff Sami Enan.
Mursi´s spokesman called it a "sovereign" decision by the head of
state, and aimed at "pumping new blood" into an army that has shown
signs of hoping to control the novice president. A fellow Islamist
said Egypt could not go on having "two heads".
Secular activists, wary of political Islam, nonetheless welcomed
a "first step toward establishing a civilian state".
Mursi himself later said: "The decisions I took today were not meant
ever to target certain persons, nor did I intend to embarrass
institutions, nor was my aim to narrow freedoms.
"I did not mean to send a negative message about anyone, but my aim
was the benefit of this nation and its people," he said, praising the
work of the armed forces and saying his decision would free them to
focus on their professional tasks.
The move sidelines Tantawi, Mubarak´s defence minister for two
decades and whose continued presence had cast a shadow of military
rule over the new democracy, and whittles away powers still held by
the army, from whose ranks all Egyptian presidents for the past 60
years had been drawn until the voting in June.
A member of the military council told Reuters that Mursi, a moderate
Islamist party official popularly elected in June but with
constitutional powers sharply circumscribed in advance by the
generals, had consulted Tantawi and General Enan, 64, before ordering
both men to retire.
But it was not clear how far the generals, members of the Supreme
Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), actually consented to a move that
reveals a reordering of Egypt´s political forces as they all wait for
a new constitution, shifting more powers towards Mursi and his long-
suppressed Muslim Brotherhood.
"This clash between the new president and the military council was
expected - but not this fast," said analyst Gamal Soltan. "It can be
considered a restructuring of the armed forces and an end to the role
of SCAF in political life."
Thousands of Islamist supporters gathered in Cairo´s Tahrir Square
and other cities to back Mursi´s decision. "President of the
republic, your decree gets 100 percent," some chanted.
Tantawi, after serving Mubarak as a minister for 20 years, helped
ease the ageing dictator out of office on February 11, 2011 in the
face of the mass street protests of the Arab Spring.
A senior Brotherhood official, Mahmoud Ghozlan, said the army should
have returned to barracks once Mursi was elected. But it had instead
sought to retain a role in politics: "The nation came to have two
heads - the president and the military council," Ghozlan said. "The
president had to act to recover his full powers from the hands of the
In a statement that came out of the blue, presidential spokesman
Yasser Ali announced: "Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi has been
transferred into retirement from today." In his place as armed forces
chief and defence minister, Mursi appointed General Abdel Fattah al-
Sisi, 57, from military intelligence.
Enan was replaced General Sidki Sobhi, 56, who headed the Third Field
Army based in Suez, on the border with Sinai.
Both those pushed into retirement, whose positions may have been
weakened by the border debacle last week in the Sinai desert, were
appointed as advisers to the president.
By scrapping the army´s constitutional declaration, Mursi can also
take on the legislative powers the generals had sought to keep for
themselves in the absence of a parliament. In June, the military
council, backed by judges, dissolved the Islamist-led assembly
elected in January - a move Mursi has challenged.
"The decision was a sovereign one, taken by the president to pump new
blood into the military establishment in the interests of developing
a new, modern state," presidential spokesman Ali told Reuters after
making the announcement.
"It was a critical decision and the members of the military council
understood this because they are patriotic and General Sisi is from
the new generation of the patriotic men of the armed forces. He is
responsible and well respected."
Enan was long seen as particularly close to the Pentagon, the main
sponsor of Egypt´s armed forces. Washington gives Egypt $1.3 billion
in military aid each year.
Liberals and other political rivals of the Brotherhood have voiced
concerns at the growing might of the Islamists, who for decades were
hounded and jailed by Mubarak and his predecessors. But they have
also been wary of the army´s continuing role.
The April 6 youth movement, which helped galvanize the revolt against
Mubarak, described Mursi´s move as the "first step towards
establishing a civilian state", it said on its Facebook page. "We
want a strong, national army to protect the nation and that does not
intervene in politics".
Tantawi´s age had meant that his departure had been long expected in
some form, and his appointment as an adviser to Mursi appeared to
exclude the possibility he might face the kind of prosecution that
saw Mubarak, now 84, jailed for life.
In a similar vein, two other senior officers in the navy and air
defence retired into high office at the Suez Canal Authority and an
industrial body, mirroring the kind of lucrative sinecure posts
offered to officers in Mubarak´s era.
The armed forces, with vast resources in Egypt´s economy as well as a
military strength funded in part by Washington, remain a key
institution in Egypt and the process of establishing full democratic
control has only just begun.
General Mohamed el-Assar, who sits on the military council, told
Reuters: "The decision was based on consultation with the field
marshal, and the rest of the military council."
Mursi, whose election victory over a former general prompted concerns
in Israel and the West about alliances with Egypt, also appointed a
judge, Mahmoud Mekky, as his vice president. Mekky is a brother of
newly appointed Justice Minister Ahmed Mekky, who had been a vocal
critic of vote-rigging under Mubarak.
Mekky and Sisi were shortly afterwards shown on state television with
Mursi, being sworn in to their new positions.
Mursi, who has pledged to uphold democratic accountability and to
stand by Cairo´s treaties with Israel and other states, has shown
impatience with the military following violence in the Sinai desert
that brought trouble with Israel and the Palestinians´ Gaza Strip
enclave this month.
The president, whose own Brotherhood movement renounced violence to
achieve political change in Egypt long ago, sacked Egypt´s
intelligence chief last week after the attack in which Islamist
militants killed the 16 Egyptian border guards before trying to storm
the Israeli border.
"The timing of the sacking of Tantawi will serve President Mursi as
many Egyptians had blamed the military for the events (on the border)
and would not stand against this decision," said Mustapha Al Sayyid.
One analyst said Mursi may also have acted to ensure the military
commanders did not recoup their lost credit after a military
operation launched in Sinai to hunt down the militants, the biggest
such operation since Egypt´s 1973 war with Israel.
On Sunday, officials said Egyptian troops had killed five Islamist
militants after storming their hideout near the isolated border with
(Additional reporting by Yasmine Saleh, Marwa Awad, Shaimaa Fayed and
Ali Abdelatti; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Alastair
Macdonald) (© Thomson Reuters 2012. 08/12/12)
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