Egypt president defends military reshuffle

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Supporters raise a photo of the Egypt's Islamist President Mohammed Mursi during the celebration of his decision on the dismissal of former defense minister and Field Marshall Tantawi, in Tahrir Square in Cairo (Photo: Reuters – Mohamed Abd el-Ghany)

Published Monday, August 13, 2012

Egypt's President Mohammed Mursi has denied trying to marginalize the army after he ordered the retirement of his powerful defense minister, saying he was acting in the interests of the country.

Mursi on Sunday ordered Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, who headed the military council that ruled Egypt for 17 months after Hosni Mubarak's ouster in a popular uprising in February 2011, to retire.

Tantawi had headed the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) – which had widely been seen as vying for power with the elected Mursi – until being given the role of defense minister last month.

Egyptian press on Monday described the move as "revolutionary" with some saying it was aimed at ending SCAF's influence.

"I never intended, through my decisions, to marginalize or be unjust toward anyone, but rather to act so that we advance toward a better future, with a new generation, long-awaited new blood," Mursi said in a speech at Cairo's al-Azhar Conference Center late on Sunday.

"I only wish them the best. I want them to devote themselves to a mission, the protection of the nation," he said.

"I did not intend to embarrass institutions," he added, saying he had "the interest of the country in mind."

Following the move, thousands of mainly Islamist supporters of Mursi flocked to Cairo's Tahrir Square in celebration on Sunday – the focal point of a historic revolution that led to the downfall of Mubarak last year.

"The people support the president's decision," the crowd chanted.

Others mocked Tantawi's departure, presented officially as a retirement. "Marshal, tell the truth, did Mursi fire you?" they said.

Armed forces chief of staff Sami Anan was also retired, state television said, a week after a deadly attack on the Egyptian military in the Sinai prompted an unprecedented military campaign in the peninsula.

The president also scrapped a key constitutional document which gave the military legislative powers and other prerogatives, his spokesman Yasser Ali said.

The surprise announcements marked a new twist in the uneasy relationship between Mursi and the army, testing the balance of power between the first civilian president in Egypt's history and a military that had moved to limit his control.

The veteran army leader – who had served as Mubarak's defense minister for two decades and headed the country after the strongman's overthrow, until he handed power to Mursi on June 30 – was replaced by Abdel Fattah al-Sissi.

Tantawi and Anan, both recipients of the Greatest Nile Collar, Egypt's most prestigious award, had been retained as presidential advisers.

Mursi also amended the interim constitution to deny the military any role in public policy-making, the budget and legislation, and the right to pick a constituent assembly drafting a permanent constitution for post-Mubarak Egypt.

"The president has decided to annul the constitutional declaration adopted on June 17" by the SCAF, headed by Tantawi, his spokesman said.

"Given the circumstances, this is the right time to make changes in the military institution," said Mourad Ali, a senior official with the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, which fielded Mursi in a May-June presidential election.

"He is a strong president, and he is exercising his authority," Ali said.

"The Brothers are officially in power," declared the independent newspaper al-Watan, while the independent al-Masri al-Yom said, "Mursi grabs all the powers."

Mursi, an Islamist who rose through the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood before his election triumph, also decided to appoint a vice president.

He appointed judge Mahmoud Mekki as his deputy, MENA reported, making him only the second vice president to be named in Egypt in 30 years.

Sunday's moves were the latest in a series of major decisions taken by Mursi since the deadly attack on troops in the Sinai peninsula on August 5.

Last Wednesday, the president ordered spy chief Murad Muwafi to retire in a reshuffle of military and intelligence ranks after the attack which killed 16 soldiers near Egypt's borders with Israel and the Gaza Strip.

He also sacked the governor of North Sinai, Abdel Wahab Mabruk.

Islamists scored a crushing victory in Egyptian parliamentary elections that were held in three stages from November last year, with the Muslim Brotherhood dominating the lower house.

But the military dissolved parliament in May after the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that certain articles in the law governing the parliamentary polls were invalid, annulling the Islamist-led house, a decision rejected by Mursi.



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