In a surprise move, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi ordered Defense Minister Mohammed Hussein Tantawi to resign on Sunday. Tantawi was Commander-in-Chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces and chaired the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), making him the interim ruler of Egypt following the fall of former President Hosni Mubarak. Morsi also removed Tantawi’s deputy from power, Army Chief of Staff Sami Anan. Both deposed men were given honorary advisory roles, and career military man Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi was appointed to take Tantawi’s place.
Al-Sisi is both the first defense minister to be appointed by a democratically elected civilian leader and the first to not have the high rank of field marshal. He is believed to have ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Morsi is a former member, though he denies belonging to the Islamist group. Al-Sisi was head of military intelligence during the post-Mubarak period. The White House, for its part, said that it is familiar with him and welcomed the appointment.
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi (Photo: AFP)
Though president for only two months, relations between Morsi and Tantawi were tense from the start. SCAF dissolved the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated parliament in June and declared that the new president was prohibited from holding power over the budget, the legislature, or the drafting of a new constitution. SCAF also retained power over the military. Tensions were further exacerbated earlier this month when 16 Egyptian soldiers were killed by terrorists in the Sinai, humiliating the Egyptian military.
Along with forcing Tantawi to resign Sunday, Morsi nullified SCAF’s June decision limiting presidential powers, vesting himself with control over the military as well as a broad range of executive and legislative powers. Morsi also potentially gave himself a decisive role in writing the still unfinished Egyptian constitution; if the current constituent assembly is unable to draft an agreeable document, Morsi will be permitted to appoint a new one.
Morsi’s changes could be indicative of an attempt at a “soft coup” against remnants of the Mubarak era, but they could also very well begin an Islamic revolution of sorts by weakening the military. Either way, the Egyptian president and his affiliated organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, now have control over Egypt’s government and must be held responsible for Egyptian policy going forward.