Breaking free, Egypt's President Mursi removes generals
By Edmund Blair
CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's Islamist President Mohamed Mursi dismissed Cairo's two top generals and quashed a military order that had curbed the new leader's powers, in a move that further stamped his authority on the country and its army.
There had been much debate over the fate of Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, 76, who until Mursi's election in June had ruled Egypt as head of a military council since Hosni Mubarak was toppled last year. The timing of Sunday's announcement to replace him as armed forces head was nevertheless a surprise.
However, an embarrassing debacle for the army on the border with Israel, where 16 Egyptian troops were killed by Islamist militants a week ago, may have given Mursi the opening he needed to step up the pace in rolling back the military's influence, pushing aside Tantawi and military chief of staff Sami Enan.
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".
Mursi himself later said: "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.
"I did not mean to send a negative message about anyone, but my aim was the benefit of this nation and its people," he said, praising the work of the armed forces and saying his decision would free them to focus on their professional tasks.
The move sidelines 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. Continued...