Egyptian President Seizes Powers; Moves to Rebuff Armed Forces' Curbs on His Rule, If Unchallenged, Could Mean End of De Facto Military Reign

Article excerpt

CAIRO - Egypt's Islamist president ordered the retirement of the defense minister and chief of staff on Sunday and made the boldest move so far to seize back powers that the military stripped from his office right before he took over.

President Mohanned Morsi also ordered the retirement of the commanders of the navy, air defense and air force, but named two of them to senior positions.

Morsi has been locked in a power struggle with the military since he took office on June 30. But after militants killed 16 Egyptian soldiers a week ago at a border post with Israel in Sinai, he has sought more aggressively to assert his authority over the top generals.

It was not clear whether Morsi's decisions had the military's blessing. But the appointment of outgoing Defense Minister Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and Chief of Staff Gen. Sami Annan as presidential advisers and awarding them some of the nation's highest honors suggested they may have agreed, perhaps grudgingly, in advance.

After nightfall, thousands of Morsi supporters celebrated in Tahrir Square, birthplace of the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak 18 months ago. Another crowd of supporters formed outside the presidential palace in Cairo's suburb of Heliopolis.

Morsi appointed a senior judge, Mahmoud Mekki, as vice president. Mekki is a pro-reform judge who publicly spoke against election fraud during Mubarak's 29-year rule.

If Morsi's decisions go unchallenged, it could mean the end of six decades of de facto military rule since army officers seized power in a coup in 1952. But removing Tantawi and Annan does not necessarily mean that the military, Egypt's most powerful institution, has been defeated or that it would give up decades of perks and prestige without a fight.

Egypt's first civilian president acted at a moment when the military was humiliated over a major security failure in Sinai, the deadliest internal attack on soldiers in modern history. …