Egypt president defends sackings
Egyptian Islamist president Mohamed Mursi has defended his actions in dismissing two top generals and quashing a military order that had curbed the new leader's powers.
There had been much debate over the fate of Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi (76), who until Mr Mursi's election in June had ruled Egypt as head of a military council since Hosni Mubarak was toppled last year.
The timing of yesterday's announcement to replace him as armed forces head was nevertheless a surprise. Chief of staff General Sami Annan was also dismissed.
Mr Mursi has said his move to order the retirement of two of the country's top generals was for "the benefit of this nation".
"The decisions I took today were not meant ever to target certain persons, nor did I intend to embarrass institutions, nor was my aim to narrow freedoms," Mr Mursi said during a speech to mark the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
The president praised the work of the armed forces and saying his decision would free them to focus on their professional tasks.
Mr Mursi's spokesman called it a "sovereign" decision by the head of state, and aimed at "pumping new blood" into an army that has shown signs of hoping to control the novice president. A fellow Islamist said Egypt could not go on having "two heads".
Secular activists, wary of political Islam, nonetheless welcomed a "first step toward establishing a civilian state".
The move sidelines Mr Tantawi, Mubarak's defence minister for two decades and whose continued presence had cast a shadow of military rule over the new democracy, and whittles away powers still held by the army, from whose ranks all Egyptian presidents for the past 60 years had been drawn until the voting in June.
A member of the military council told Reuters that Mr Mursi, a moderate Islamist party official popularly elected in June but with constitutional powers sharply restricted in advance by the generals, had consulted Mr Tantawi and Gen Enan (64), before ordering both men to retire.
But it was not clear how far the generals, members of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, consented to a move that reveals a reordering of Egypt's political forces as they all wait for a new constitution, shifting more powers towards Mr Mursi and his long-suppressed Muslim Brotherhood.
"Mursi settles the struggle over power," said a headline in the state-owned Al-Akhbar daily, a newspaper that is traditionally a mouthpiece for the army-backed establishment.
"Mursi ends the political role for the armed forces," wrote the independent Al-Masry Al-Youm. Another independent newspaper, Tahrir, added: "Revolution of the president over the military."