With a bold stroke, President Mohammed Morsi has shaken up Egypt. Cairo woke today to learn he had reasserted his civil authority over that of the military by sacking the powerful Defence Minister and army chief, field Marshal Hussein Tantaoui.
Many ordinary Egyptians felt encouraged.
One Cairo resident said: “Military rule is now over and Egypt will become a civil state where everyone will have rights”
Another said: “The military led the country through tough times, but with the coming phase there definitely has to be a change, and it has to be a slow and controlled overall change.”
Viewed with some scepticism and criticised as lacking in charisma and firmness when he was confirmed in office at the end of June, President Morsi surprised many with his move yesterday.
He also put General Sami Anan, number two in the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, symbol of the discredited Moubarak regime, out of a job.
It came so swiftly it defied expectations.
Since Morsi won the presidency he has alternated between compromise and resoluteness with the army, to try to impose his view. He defended his steps yesterday.
He said: “I never intended to target an individual, nor did I mean to send a negative message about anyone. I give great thanks and gratitude to my sons, to my brothers, to the honourable men in the armed forces. I want them focus on the duty that is sacred for all of us, which is to protect the nation.”
The armed forces have supplied Egypt’s presidents since the 1950s, when the monarchy was ended.
They have not mounted any apparent challenge to the move announced late on Sunday.
One analyst said Morsi had mounted a “civilian counter-coup” coordinated with an internal putsch in the armed forces.
His spokesman called it a “sovereign” decision, meant “to pump new blood into the military establishment.”
Morsi last month sacked the intelligence chief after Islamist militants killed 16 guards near the Sinai border with Israel and the Gaza Strip.
Israel and the West continue to watch Egypt closely, following the Islamists’ sweep in parliamentary voting, and then the army dissolving parliament.
Egyptian former UN diplomat Mohammed El Baradei has said that now the president holds “imperial powers”, and that the “transitional mess continues.”