Egypt’s Islamist President Mohamed Morsi has removed two of the country’s top generals and cancelled a constitutional declaration aimed at curbing his powers.
The unexpected move is being seen as a decisive step in a struggle for real power between Egypt’s newly elected politicians and the military.
In a televised speech Morsi said the decisions he had taken were not meant to target particular individuals nor did he intend to embarrass institutions. His aim he said, “was for the benefit of the nation and its people.”
The enforced retirement of the powerful head of Egypt’s armed forces, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi removes a man who has cast a shadow of military rule over Egypt’s new democracy.
Tantawi became Egypt’s interim ruler after president Hosni Mubarak was ousted but has been seen as his long time ally having been Mubarak’s defence minister for decades.
During last year’s uprising protesters showed posters depicting the two men as one and the same.
Under an interim constitution, newly elected President Morsi was not allowed to rule on matters related to the military – including appointing its leaders.
But 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 Morsi the opening he needed to curb the military’s influence.