(Reuters) – Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi has driven back the biggest challenge to civilian rule by dismissing top generals and tearing up their legal attempt to curb his power in a bold bid to end 60 years of military leadership.
Taking the country by surprise, Mursi pushed Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi into retirement. The 76-year-old figurehead of the old order, he took charge of the biggest Arab nation when Hosni Mubarak fell last year and remained head of its powerful, ad hoc military council after the Islamist was elected in June.
The armed forces, which had supplied Egypt’s presidents for six decades after ousting the monarchy, have shown no sign of challenging the move announced late on Sunday, though a senior judge did speak up on Monday to question Mursi’s right to act.
Lower-ranking generals and other officers may, however, support a change that shifts power in the military to a new generation. One analyst said Mursi mounted a “civilian counter-coup” coordinated with an internal putsch in the armed forces.
State media cited a military source dismissing talk of any “negative reactions” by the generals to a decision which, given their earlier dissolution of parliament, now hands Mursi what liberal critic Mohamed ElBaradei described as “imperial powers“.
Mursi and his long-suppressed Muslim Brotherhood had been expected to roll back the influence of the army, a close ally of Washington and recipient of $1.3 billion in annual U.S. military aid; but many had predicted a process that would take years of delicate diplomacy to avoid sparking a military backlash.
Instead, just six weeks after he was sworn into office and seemingly taking advantage of a military debacle on the Sinai border that embarrassed the army, Mursi announced sweeping changes in the high command and reshaped Egypt’s politics.
“Mursi settles the struggle for 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, Tahrir, called it the “president’s revolution against the military”.
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