In an unexpected and unprecedented move, President Mohamed Morsy has sacked the country’s top military officials, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and Minister of Defence alongside his Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Sami Anan.
Morsy has also appointed the former Deputy Chairman of the Cassation Court Judge Mahmoud Mekki as vice president.
In a statement read out by official presidential spokesperson Yasser Aly on state television Sunday, Morsy also announced the cancelation of the supplementary constitutional declaration and the removal of several other high ranking military officials and their replacements.
The cancelation of the constitutional decree, released by the military weeks before Morsy became president, returns to the president several powers over defence that were transferred to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. One such power is the ability to make personnel changes within the military, including SCAF, which is chaired by Tantawi with Anan as deputy.
According to Aly, the president will release a new constitutional decree that “allows him to exercise full presidential powers” in the official gazette.
Tantawi and Anan have been retired from their roles and appointed presidential advisors. Tantawi has been awarded Egypt’s top state honour; the Order of the Nile and Anan was awarded the prestigious Order of the Republic.
SCAF member Major General Abdel Fattah El Sissy, Director of the Military Intelligence and Scouting Agency, was promoted to full General and appointed as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and Minister of Defence and Military Production, replacing Tantawi.
El Sissy was the first military official to admit to the media the conducting of “virginity tests” by the military on female protestors last year.
At just 58 years of age, he is one of the youngest defence ministers in Egyptian history; second only to Nasser’s first defence minister, Abdel Hakim Amer.
Talk show host and Fara’een television channel owner Tawfiq Okasha had accused El Sissy in June of being a secret member of the Muslim Brotherhood. SCAF’s Facebook page however carried an official statement denying Okasha’s claim.
El Sissy was tasked by Morsy to plug the holes within SCAF after the latest promotions and retirements within the group.
Anan was replaced as Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces by Major General Sedky Sobhy, Commander of the Third Field Army, who was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General. Sobhy is also a member of SCAF.
Major General Mohamed El Assar, Assistant Defense Minister for Armament Affairs and another SCAF member, was appointed Assistant Defence Minister, signalling an expansion in his portfolio.
He told the press that Morsy’s decision came after consulting Tantawi and other SCAF members.
“The decision was based on consultation with the field marshal and the rest of the military council,” El Assar told Reuters news agency.
However, Morsy’s legal adviser, Mohamed Fouad Gad-Allah, told the press that SCAF leadership, including Tantawi and Anan, were taken by surprise by Morsy’s decisions.
Other top military leaders were also removed. High ranking SCAF members Vice Admiral Mohab Mamish, Commander of the Egyptian Navy; Lieutenant General Abd El Aziz Seif-Eldeen, Commander of the Egyptian Air Defense Forces; and Air Marshal Reda Mahmoud Hafez, Commander of the Egyptian Air Force were also relieved from duty and moved on to civilian roles.
Together, the three men make up the leadership of all the military’s service branches with the exception of the army.
Mamish was made President of the Suez Canal Authority; Seif-Eldeen is now chairman of the Arab Organization for Industrialisation; and Hafez was appointed Minister of State for Military Production.
These appointments can be viewed as part of a safe exit deal. The Ministry of State for Military Production and the Arab Organization for Industrialisation make up two of the three sources of wealth in the Egyptian military’s vast economic empire, estimated by experts to compose somewhere between ten to 40 percent of the Egyptian economy.
Heading the Suez Canal is another very important civilian post also traditionally handed over to retired military leaders. The post holder is considered a minister without a portfolio and can attend cabinet meetings.
El Sissy and Mekki performed the oath of office in front of Morsy right after the announcement was made.
Mekki is one of the main figures in Egypt’s independent judiciary movement that fought against governmental interference in judicial affairs and election fraud during former President Hosni Mubarak’s era
The cancelation of the supplementary constitutional decree means that Morsy will no longer share power with SCAF. In the absence of an elected parliament, the lower house of which was dissolved by SCAF after the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled the parliamentary election law unconstitutional, Morsy now holds all executive and legislative powers of state.
The new constitutional decree Morsy released is made up of just four articles. It rules that the 17 March constitutional decree is abrogated and that the president assumes all the powers outlined in article 56, originally reserved for SCAF, of the 30 March 2011 constitutional decree.
These powers cover: legislation; issuing public policy for the state and the public budget and ensuring its implementation; selecting the appointed members of the People’s Assembly; assembling and adjourning the People’s Assembly and Shura Council; the promulgation or objection to laws; representing the state domestically and abroad, signing international treaties and agreements, and being considered a part of the legal system of the state; appointing the prime minister and his deputies, ministers and their deputies, as well as relieving them from their duties; appointing civilian and military employees and political representatives, dismissing them according to the law as well as accrediting foreign political representatives; and finally pardoning or reducing punishment, though blanket amnesty is granted only by law.
Article three says the president has the right to form the Constituent Assembly tasked with drafting a new constitution in case the current one is prevented from doing so and that the new assembly would be required to complete the constitution within three months of its formation with the draft being put to referendum 30 days after its completion.
This means that if the current assembly, which currently faces dissolution as part of a case being viewed by the Administrative Judiciary Court, is in fact dissolved, it will be Morsy who appoints a replacement, not SCAF.
The article also stipulates that new parliamentary elections are to be held two months after the constitution passes through a public referendum.
Finally, article four says that the decree is to be published in the official state gazette and is effective the following day.
The President now has the right to bring back the dissolved house, the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated People’s Assembly, a move he tried earlier only to be blocked by SCAF and the court.
At the time of going to press, President Morsy was scheduled to give a speech in the Laylat al-Qadr celebration held at the Al-Azhar conference centre in Nasr City.