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Egyptian military reduced in authority

Aug. 13, 2012 at 4:47 PM   |   Comments

CAIRO, Aug. 13 (UPI) -- The move by the Egyptian president to amass more power by removing his military chiefs has been met with conflicting opinions, analysts said Monday.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces had no immediate comment on President Mohamed Morsi's forced retirement Sunday of Egypt's most senior military officers, including Defense Minister Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who led the 21-member military council after Hosni Mubarak was ousted as president. Tantawi, 76, was Egypt's de facto leader between Mubarak's ousting and Morsi's election.

Also presumptively ousted was SCAF Deputy Chairman Lt. Gen. Sami Hafez Anan, 64, the armed forces chief of staff, widely seen as Tantawi's likely successor.

Both were kept on as presidential advisers with undisclosed roles, Morsi spokesman Yasser Ali said.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said it was important that Egyptian military and civilian leaders work together to address economic and security challenges facing the country.

"We hope that President Morsi's announcements will serve the interests of the Egyptian people and maintain good relations with Egypt's neighbors," Carney said Monday during a news briefing.

He said the United States will work with Egypt's civilian and military interests.

"In particular, we are ready to help President Morsi and the military as they continue to work to prevent extremists from operating in the Sinai," Carney said.

Morsi promoted others within the military to replace Tantawi and Anan, CNN reported Monday.

Also pushed out were the chiefs of the navy, air forces and air defense.

He additionally nullified a constitutional declaration, issued by the military junta hours before Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood declared victory in the presidential race June 24, that gutted his office's authority -- and replaced it with his own declaration that gave him broad legislative and executive powers.

He is now supreme commander of the Egyptian Armed Forces and president of the National Defense Council, as well as Egypt's president.

The surprise concentration of power strengthens Morsi's position and weakens that of the military, in what Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Institution's Doha Center called "a mix of civilian counter-coup and a coordinated coup within the military itself."

The Wall Street Journal said the new powers Morsi, who resigned the Muslim Brotherhood presidency when he won the election, gave to himself and his office exceeded even those enjoyed by Mubarak.

The New York Times said his new powers could potentially also give him a decisive role in the drafting of Egypt's still unfinished new Constitution.

The public was given no advance notice of Sunday's decision, and Tantawi and Anan's replacements were sworn in immediately after the shakeup announcement in brief ceremonies aired live on state TV.

The White House and State Department said they too received no advance notice of the firings and had no immediate comment.

Morsi said in a speech his decisions were not meant to "embarrass" the military or its leaders but to act in "the best interests of this nation."

"Today, this nation returns -- this people return -- with its blessed revolution," he said. "Support me strongly, so we can move to a better future."

Hundreds of people gathered outside the presidential palace and in downtown Cairo's Tahrir Square with banners to declare their allegiance to the president Sunday night into early Monday.

Morsi's move raised the possibility of a new confrontation with Egypt's highest judicial power, some analysts said.

The Supreme Constitutional Court already ruled the military's constitutional declaration gutting the president's powers was legal. Morsi reversed and claimed to supersede the declaration.

"This is a civilian-led putsch. It's extralegal," Egypt expert Michael Wahid Hanna, a fellow at New York's Century Foundation progressive think tank, told the Journal. "It requires for the Supreme Constitutional Court to cease to be a binding force. I don't think there's any other way around it."

The court is widely seen as a politicized body that includes judges who share the military's distrust of the Muslim Brotherhood.

"He's clearly done his homework and clearly cultivated another group of officers that has allowed him to do this. If he can make this stick, it's a very important moment in Morsi's effort to consolidate his own political power," said Steven Cook, senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.

Morsi now "assumes legislative and executive power. He is extraordinarily powerful," Cook added.

The Muslim Brotherhood demonstrated Sunday night in Tahrir Square in Cairo to support Morsi's moves. Protesters demonstrated at the defense ministry's headquarters, CNN said.

The military's reduction in influence is "a significant shift in the civil-military balance of power, toward the civilian side. This is thew first time in Egypt's political history that an elected civilian politician overrules the decision of the heads of the military establishment," said Omar Ashour, visiting scholar at the Brooking's' Doha Center.

Morsi's firings came a week after 16 Egyptian soldiers were killed in northern Sinai by suspected Islamist extremists. Those killings, at a military outpost near the border with Israel, prompted Morsi Wednesday to fire his intelligence chief, several high-level Interior Ministry officials and the head of his own presidential guard.

© 2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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