Egypt’s newly elected President Mohammed Mursi ordered the retirement of the country’s two top generals amid a power struggle between the president and the army.
The forced retirement of Egypt’s Defence Minister, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, is part of a reshuffle of the top tier of Egypt’s armed forces, and effectively sidelines Tantawi – the man who headed the military council that ruled the country after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak. Mursi also ordered the retirement of the commanders of the navy, air force and Tantawi’s number two, Lieutenant General Sami Enan.
It is not clear whether the military acquiesced to the changes. Reuters quoted General Mohamed el-Assar, a member of the military council, as saying the decision was made after consultation with Tantawi.
In addition to the shake-up of the Egyptian military’s top brass this weekend, Mursi cancelled constitutional changes issued by the army before his inauguration that had stripped his office of some of its authority. Ehud Yaari, a Washington Institute Associate fellow speaking to the Times of Israel, described the moves as a “civilian coup” against the army. He added that the move underlined that Mursi and the army’s leadership are not running Egypt together, but rather that the army is subject to the orders of the presidency.
Yaari also noted that while Israel had a relationship with Tantawi going back decades, Mursi would still not deal directly with Israel. Tantawi’s successor, Abdul Fatah Khalil Al-Sisi, would be one point of contact, and the new intelligence chief, Mohammed Raafat Shehata, would be the other.
In his assertion of authority Sunday, Mursi also deployed forces in the Sinai ahead of an expected major military crackdown on terrorist cells in the Peninsula. Israel last week gave Egypt permission to deploy forces in excess of limitations set out in the Israel-Egypt peace treaty in order to crack down on Sinai terrorist bases.
On Sunday, Egyptian security forces killed six gunmen in a raid on a village of North Sinai. Sunday’s raid came as the military sent more tanks and armoured vehicles to Sinai in an unprecedented campaign to capture or kill Islamic militants behind an attack on an army outpost that killed 16 soldiers on 5 August.