On Sunday, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi ordered the retirement of Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who had served in the post for twenty years and was a key ally of deposed leader Hosni Mubarak. Tantawi had been the head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the military council that had served as Egypt’s interim leader before Morsi’s election, and had just been reappointed as defense minister. Also ordered to retired was Army Chief of Staff Sami Hafez Anan, who had been thought to be Tantawi’s successor, and the chiefs of the navy, the air force and the air defense branch.
Morsi also annulled a constitutional declaration issued by the SCAF on June 30– the day before he took office — that had granted the generals legislative powers and budgetary controls, as well as oversight in drawing up a new constitution.
Egypt’s military has so far shown no sign of opposing Morsi’s decision, which reportedly surprised the country and “transformed [Morsi's] image overnight from a weak leader to a savvy politician who carefully timed his move against generals.” Egypt’s state media announced that the shake-up was “done in cooperation and after consultations with the armed forces.”
Morsi chose younger officers from the military council to replace the 76-year-old Tantawi and Anan, which may suggest that he had made some sort of deal with them. Selected to head military intelligence is Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, whose name surfaced last year when he admitted to Amnesty International that the military had performed “virginity tests” on female protesters. El-Sisi’s defense for the policy was that it was intended to “protect” soldiers from allegations of rape and that the tests would be stopped.
The removal of Tantawi is especially noteworthy as he was seen as a symbol of the military’s continued attempt to hold onto power after the ousting of Mubarak. Morsi’s announcement followed an attack on the Sinai last week by militants that left sixteen Egyptian solders dead, says the BBC’s Yolande Knell.
Writer and journalist Wael Eskander suggested that, with demonstrations against Morsi’s party, the Muslim Brotherhood, planned for August 24, the “military shakeup prompted speculation that Morsi was fearful of the possibility of a coup.”
Another BBC correspondent, Kevin Connolly, noted that the “dismissal of senior military officers will be seen by Egyptians as a decisive move in a struggle for real power” between newly elected politicians and the generals who have been in command for years.
Questions remain about Morsi’s constitutional powers to act. On Sunday, he also appointed Mahmoud Mekki, a senior judge who fought for judicial independence under Mubarak, as vice president. But Gaber Nassar, a professor of constitutional law at Cairo University, told the New York Times that Morsi had the right to abolish the SCAF’s declaration; a retired brigadier general, Ayman Salama, also told the the BBC that Morsi had acted correctly.
Crowds gathered in Tahrir Square to express support for Morsi’s moves with people chanting “the people support the president’s decision” and “Marshal, tell the truth, did Morsi fire you?”.
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