Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi on Sunday sacked Defense Minister Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi and Army Chief-of-Staff Sami Anan and canceled the military-declared constitutional amendments that gave top generals wide powers.
As crowds gather in Cairo’s Tahrir Sqaure in support of the moves, Mursi gave a televised speech at Al-Azhar University, saying that the actions continued the work of last year's street demonstrations that toppled the regime of President Hosni Mubarak.
“The revolution achieved some of its goals and we are resolved to realize the rest,” Mursi said in the Sunday evening speech. “We seek to restore security stability and development of the country.”
“My decisions are not directed to individuals or meant to embarrass institutions,” he added.
“I didn’t mean to send negative messages to anyone, but was seeking the interest of the nation. There are great challenges facing the Egyptian people.”
The constitutional amendments that he revoked where issued shortly before the elections by the Supreme Military Council, which ruled the country during the transitional period after Mubarak's ouster.
The much-criticized addendum had expanded the military council’s power and gutted that of elected officials. It had put military leaders in control of the right to declare a state of war, and also gave them the ability to appoint a new Constituent Assembly tasked with drafting a new constitution if the current one had been dismantled.
In his sweeping moves, Mursi also ordered the retirement of the commanders of the navy, air defense and air force. The retired navy commander, Lt. Gen. Mohan Mameesh, was named as chairman of the Suez Canal, the strategic waterway linking the Red Sea and the Mediterranean and a major source of revenues for the country.
Presidential spokesman Yasser Ali said told a news conference aired on state TV that Mursi named a career army officer, Lt. Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, to replace Tantawi and Lt. Gen. Sidki Sayed Ahmed to replace Anan.
It was not immediately clear whether the decisions had the military’s blessing. But Egyptian General Mohamed el-Assar told Reuters that the decision to sack Tantawi “was based on consultation with the field marshal and the rest of the military council,” In a reshuffle of the top brass announced on Sunday, Assar was appointed deputy defense minister.
President Mursi said Tantawi and Chief of Staff Anan had been “ordered to retire” and would become advisers to the president.
Imad Jad, member of Egypt’s dissolved parliament, told Al Arabiya that Tantawi and Anan’s appointments as presidential advisors were part of a tradition in Egyptian politics. “When Egypt’s heads of state want to remove an unwanted powerful figure, they remove him from his post and give him an honorary position.”
Farrag Ismail, veteran Egyptian journalist and political analyst, said Mursi’s decisions restored the full powers of the presidency. “Today, the military council is finished...the president is the commander-in-chief.”
Referring to a possible military rebellion, Ismail said, “If there is no reaction against Mursi’s moves within hours, we can consider his decisions final.”
The move comes as Egypt’s freshly-elected government faces criticism for unrest in the northern Sinai region, where militants attacked a border post last week, killing 16 troops.
Field Marshal Tantawi, who served over 50 years in Egypt’s military, had been considered a possible contender for the country’s presidency last year, when former president Hosni Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising.
When he was forced to resign on February 11, 2011, Mubarak transferred authority to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, headed by the Tantawi, making him the de facto head of state until elections brought the President Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood to power this year.
Anan, the second-in-command of the military and the number two member of the 18-man Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, had been viewed as more friendly to Western governments than Tantawi, but also favored by the Muslim Brotherhood.