Mohamed Morsi is revelling in his surprise new role as presidential strongman and revolutionary flag-bearer tonight, as speculation grew that his shock dismissal of Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi was a “soft coup” triggered by the swelling ranks of disaffected army officers.
Mr Morsi, previously perceived as something of a powder-puff president by many Egyptians, wrong-footed many of his critics late on Sunday by announcing the removal of General Tantawi, the man who served as Defence Minister for 17 years and who became the nation’s de facto leader as head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf).
The man selected to take his place was confirmed as Major General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, the ex-military intelligence chief whose previously came to prominence when he admitted that the army had carried out controversial “virginity tests” on female protesters arrested last year.
Mr Morsi’s announcement, which analysts claimed was an ‘’historic’’ defeat for Egypt’s six-decade-old army establishment, was coupled with a decision to ditch a raft of legislative and constitutional powers which the military council had carved up for itself back in June.
Following the recent court decision to dissolve parliament, it means that Mr Morsi now enjoys full executive and legislative authority over the country – a major fillip for the Muslim Brotherhood, which appears to have outmaneuvered Egypt’s top brass after months of grappling over the reins of power.
“I see this as a coup,’’ said Hani Shukrallah, editor of Al Ahram Online, who added that there had been support for the move within some elements of the military. “The Scaf has been very badly discredited since the revolution. This has expressed itself within the ranks.”
Speaking to The Independent today, one junior officer said that many soldiers had come to ‘hate’ Field Marshall Tantawi. “The oldest officers don’t welcome this decision,” said Ahmed Salem. “But the younger ones do. Our reputation during Tantawi’s time has become very bad.”
The military’s sense of prestige, which is still a matter of intense pride for millions of Egyptians, took a battering this month following the deadly attacks by a group of militants in the Sinai desert which killed 16 soldiers.
According to some, the attacks gave an added impetus for Mr Morsi to jettison Tantawi. “After what happened in the Sinai, I think he thought that a lot of the guys in the Scaf are not people he needed,” said Koert DeBeuf, a representative of the European Parliament based in Cairo. “The Scaf has made a lot mistakes over the past year.”
Many political factions welcomed Mr Tantawi’s dismissal, with former presidential candidate Mohamed El-Baradei using his Twitter account to say that “ending military rule is a step in the right direction.”
Others expressed concern about the degree of power now being wielded by Mohamed Morsi. Only last week, a number of prominent newspaper journalists left their opinion columns blank in protest over allegations that the Muslim Brotherhood was trying to shoehorn favoured editors onto state-run publications.
Morsi’s recent gambit has stoked renewed fears about the group’s growing clout. “The Muslim Brotherhood now have all the power,” said Sherif Taher, a senior member of the liberal Al-Wafd Party. “They are taking over every aspect of this country.”
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