Egypt's New Leader Dismisses Military Chiefs

Aug 12, 2012
Originally published on August 12, 2012 5:29 pm

New Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi is asserting his authority in the boldest move he's made since assuming the nation's top job.

Update at 4:08 p.m. More Details

The Muslim Brotherhood's Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected president, ordered the retirement of Defense Minister Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and Chief of Staff Gen. Sami Annan. He also restored to the office of the president powers taken from it by the military before his election.

NPR's Leila Fadel called the move "a huge shift in the military-civilian balance in this government."

"This is really quite a historic moment," she told Guy Raz, host of weekends on All Things Considered. "For the first time, you have a civilian leader overturning a military decision. And this allows for Morsi to basically take all the powers of the state in his hands: legislative and executive, and cuts SCAF, or the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, out of decision making going forward."

The two men who replaced Tantawi and Annan are also from the SCAF, raising speculation, Leila says, "that this was done in coordination with at least part of the military council."

Audio for the rest of Leila's conversation with Guy will be available at 7 p.m.

And here's our original post:

NPR's Leila Fadel reports to our Newscast Desk that Morsi just forced the country's two top generals to retire and revoked a constitutional declaration by the generals that had stripped many of his presidential powers.

"A spokesman for Egypt's president says that Morsi demanded that the country's chief of staff and defense minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi retire, along with the second in command of the military council, Sami Annan.

"The move sent shock waves through the political establishment. Morsi has so far been hesitant to challenge the military authority. Until today, the country's top generals still held most of the reins of power.

"But on Sunday, the spokesman Yasser Ali said in a news conference that the president also cancelled a controversial constitutional amendment that gave the top generals vast powers, including veto power over all governmental decisions.

"He appointed a new defense minister, Abedl Fattah el Sissi and appointed a new Vice President Mahmoud Mekki, Leila Fadel NPR NEWS, Cairo."

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We're going to head to the campaign trail and the Olympics in a moment, but first to another developing story we're following out of Egypt today. That country's newly elected president, Mohammed Morsi, has ousted several top military officials, including the powerful defense minister, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, and the army's chief of staff, Sami Anan. Morsi has also annulled a constitutional declaration issued by the military that curbed the power of the president. Several military officials have been suspicious of Morsi's intentions. The new president was once a leading figure in the Muslim Brotherhood.

NPR's Leila Fadel joins us from Cairo for more. Leila, this is potentially explosive. First, is there any word on whether the generals or Tantawi have actually accepted their forced resignations?

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Well, the decision was effective immediately. The retirement was forced upon them, and they were honored with medals, and they've already been replaced. And the new defense minister and chief of staff were sworn in tonight. So whether or not they have accepted is really beside the point. And also, there are reports that actually this was done in coordination with at least part of the military council.

RAZ: Now, when Morsi was elected earlier this year, there was a sense that his powers as president would be very limited. How does the canceling of the military's constitutional declaration change those powers?

FADEL: Well, this is actually really quite a historic moment. For the first time, you have a civilian leader overturning a military decision. And this allows for Morsi to basically take all the powers of the state in his hands - legislative and executive - and cuts SCAF, or the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, out of decision making going forward.

RAZ: Has there been any reaction outside military circles to the decisions so far, Leila?

FADEL: So far, this has actually been quite welcomed. A lot of other political factions and observers have been waiting for Morsi to actually confront the military on this power grab they made right before he was elected as president. This constitutional addendum that Morsi annulled today basically gave SCAF power over all governmental decisions, and now he's cut them out. So this is seen as a civilian government asserting his authority over a military that has really tried to keep control despite an election here.

RAZ: It's a pretty risky move, though, right? I mean, is there any possibility that parts of the military could - I don't know - could rebel against this?

FADEL: I think it is definitely a risky move on the part of Morsi, not only because parts of the military council are likely unhappy about this, but also now Morsi is a completely empowered president at a very challenging time in Egypt. So now, all the blame and responsibility of the state is on his shoulders. But the military council is not a uniform body, and a new defense minister is a member of that same council, so it's clear that Morsi made the decision with some of these powerful generals at the same time.

RAZ: But there's no question it strengthens his hand, Morsi's hand.

FADEL: Yes, it definitely does. At this point, there's a huge shift in the military-civilian balance in this government. Suddenly, this is a civilian-led government for the first time. And the first almost two months of Morsi's presidency, he had no power. All the decisions were in the military council's hand. Now, all the decisions are in Morsi's hand.

RAZ: That's NPR Leila Fadel in Cairo. Leila, thanks so much.

FADEL: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.