Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi fired Defense Minister Mohammed Hussein Tantawi and Chief of Staff Sami Anan on Sunday afternoon, forcing them into retirement, and canceled the military-declared constitutional amendments that gave top generals wide powers, Egyptian state TV reported.
Morsi also ordered the retirement of the commanders of the navy, air defense and air force.
The move was seen as an unprecedented assertion of authority over the armed forces by the Muslim Brotherhood president — a “civilian coup” against the army, in the words of the leading Israeli Arab affairs analyst Ehud Yaari. The move underlined that the president and the army are not running Egypt together, but rather that the army is subject to the orders of the presidency, Yaari said.
He noted that while Israel had a relationship with Tantawi going back decades, Morsi would not deal directly with Israel. Tantawi’s successor, Abdul Fatah Khalil Al-Sisi, would now be one point of contact, and the new intelligence chief, Mohammed Raafat Shehata, would be another.
In his assertion of authority Sunday, the president also deployed forces in the Sinai ahead of an expected major military crackdown on terror cells there. 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 terror bases. Israel allowed Egypt to deploy troops close to the Israeli border, noted Yaari. “The question is, after the military operation, will Morsi take the troops back out again.”
Political sources in Jerusalem said that if the new appointments do not cooperate with Israel, then Israel will start to take independent action to thwart terrorist attacks from Sinai, Channel 10 reported.
Maj.Gen. Mohamed el-Assar told Reuters that the president’s decision to order Tantawi to retire followed a consultation with Tantawi and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which he headed. Al Jazeera reported that the announcement came as a surprise to Tantawi and Anan.
Morsi also appointed a senior judge, Mahmoud Mekki, as vice president, and named the retired navy commander, Lt. Gen. Mohan Mameesh, 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.
The dramatic dismissals followed a series of several sackings of top Egyptian intelligence and security officials after last Sunday’s terror attack at the Egypt-Gaza-Israel border in which 16 Egyptian troops were killed.
Tantawi headed the transitional military government in Egypt before Morsi was elected president in June. Tantawi’s successor Al-Sisi was the former director of military intelligence. Anan’s successor was named as Lt. General Sidki Sayed Ahmed, formerly the commander of the Third Field Army.
The sidelining of Tantawi, Egypt’s military strongman, represented Morsi’s most drastic move to date in seeking to marginalize Egypt’s military leadership and assert the supremacy of the political echelon. The two hierarchies have publicly pledged to cooperate in the weeks since Morsi was elected, but they have clashed over the legitimacy of Egypt’s parliament, and over who should hold key military powers.
Morsi sacked his intelligence chief and the governor of Northern Sinai last Wednesday.
He also fired the commander of the presidential guard and named new chiefs for Cairo’s security forces and the police’s large central security, a large paramilitary force often deployed to deal with riots.
Sacked Intelligence chief Murad Muwafi was quoted in last Wednesday’s newspapers as saying his agency was warned by Israel ahead of Sunday’s attack, but did not think that Muslims would attack Muslims while breaking their Ramadan fast.
The attackers killed 16 Egyptian soldiers as they were breaking their daily fast for the holy month of Ramadan with a sunset meal. The terrorists commandeered an armored vehicle that they then used to storm across the border into Israel, where they were targeted by an Israeli airstrike.
Last Thursday Israel warned its citizens to leave Sinai, citing intelligence of a pending attack. The US issued a travel warning the next day.
The Egyptian military hit back with air and ground raids on terror targets in the Sinai last week.