President Morsi fires Egypt’s top military echelon, surprising Israel with his power play

Apologies for being slightly behind the news, having just got back from a short holiday.

President Morsi with fired Generals Tantawi and Anan

President Morsi with fired Generals Tantawi and Anan

Egypt’s President Morsi took surprising action by firing Egypt’s top military echelon yesterday.

A government spokesman said Sunday that Egypt’s president has ordered the defense minister and chief of staff to retire and has canceled the military-declared constitutional amendments that gave top generals wide powers.

President Mohammed Morsi also issued a new constitutional declaration that grants him many presidential powers that were restricted by the army in June, al-Ahram news site reported.

Israel admitted it was surprised by Morsi’s action although it claimed that Israel-Egypt security cooperation will not be adversely affected.

President Mohammed Morsi’s sudden deposition of Cairo’s military elite on Sunday will not harm security collaboration between the Israeli and Egyptian armed forces, a senior official in Jerusalem told Maariv on Monday.

Assuaging fears that unfamiliar military leaders in Cairo might not cooperate with Israel, the official said that Defense Minister Mohammed Hussein Tantawi’s replacement, Abdul Fatah Khalil Al-Sisi, “is well acquainted with Israel’s security elites — from Defense Ministry Policy Director Amos Gilad, to the prime minister’s special envoy Yitzhak Molcho, and of course Defense Minister Ehud Barak.”


Israel was surprised Sunday by Morsi’s ouster of military strongman Tantawi, Chief of Staff Sami Anan and other security chiefs, and is wary of the consequences of the power play, other Israeli security sources said following Sunday’s “civilian coup.”

The move cemented Morsi’s authority over the armed forces in what was seen as a move similar to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ouster of dozens of his generals. However, Erdogan achieved control over the army in a gradual process; Morsi has done so in a matter of days.

An unnamed Israeli official was quoted on the Walla news site as saying that the immediate consequence of the shake-up was that no one in senior Egyptian military positions would now dare take any steps that they feared would not find favor with the Muslim Brotherhood president. Such a shift would inevitably adversely affect Israel, given that Tantawi and Anan were in close ongoing contact with their Israeli counterparts. The two also had long-term relations with senior American officials, including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.


Israel’s leading Arab affairs analyst Ehud Yaari described Morsi’s move Sunday as a “civilian coup” against the army. The move underlined that the president and the army are no longer running Egypt together, but rather that the army is subject to the orders of the presidency, Yaari said.

The generally accepted standard in western democracies is that the army is indeed subservient to the government, so Morsi could credibly claim that he is acting in concert with western liberal norms. The problem for Israel is that Morsi is an Islamist whereas the Egyptian army has traditionally been secular.

Indeed, according to Al-Arabiya, there are fears that Morsi’s action could give rise to a civilian dictatorship in Egypt:

However, Egyptian political analyst Hani Nesira feared the surprise moves were part of a coup that dangerously put all powers in the hands of President Mursi.

“He is becoming even more powerful than Hosni Mubarak used to be,” Nesira told Al Arabiya English.

“I think this is part of the Muslim Brotherhood’s strategy that has targeted the media by shutting down a newspaper and a television station. Now it has annulled the constitutional amendments previously demanded by many revolutionary and nationalist powers, including member of the parliament itself,” Nesira said.

Mursi’s decisions have opened doors for a new conflict between the Brotherhood movement and other political factions, or could also be later rejected as unconstitutional, he added.

Together with Israel’s relaxing its limitations on Egypt’s military deployment in the Sinai, the new civilian-military order in Egypt is a source of concern for Israel.

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2 Responses to President Morsi fires Egypt’s top military echelon, surprising Israel with his power play

  1. Cormac says:

    Interesting how people seem to forget Abdul Khalil’s involvement in supressing the Egyptian Revolution last year.Morsi can not be taken by his word, The Muslim Brotherhood said they wouldn’t even put forward a candidate for the Presidential election in the first place.Erdogan of Turkey also managed to limit the power of the secular Turkish Military.

    “Together with Israel’s relaxing its limitations on Egypt’s military deployment in the Sinai, the new civilian miltary order in Egypt is a source of concern for Israel” The fact that Nasser built the Aswan Dam should be a source of concern for Egypt, if push comes to shove you can do what Lieberman proposed, bomb it or at least the threat of such an attack would be off putting enough for Egypt to back down.

  2. Pingback: Worrying about Egypt | Anne's Opinions

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