In a series of personnel shakeups last weekend, President Mohamed Morsi took his first bold steps as the leader of Egypt. For some, Mr. Morsi is consolidating power and pushing back against a military that attempted to box him in before his election. For others, these moves reveal the new president’s real sympathies — and they align with those of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Last weekend, Mr. Morsi fired Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, minister of defense; Lt. Gen. Sami Hafez Enan, chief of staff of the armed forces; and Mr. Murad Muwafi, chief of intelligence.
Mr. Morsi also canceled a controversial June 17 decree, passed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces — the official power in Cairo at the time — that had stripped the president of control over important national security and defense prerogatives.
The ostensible cause of the firings was an August attack by militants that killed 16 soldiers in the Sinai Peninsula near the border with Israel. This incident, which resulted in the largest death toll for the military in years, exposed the services to the worst criticism since the 1967 war with Israel. The incident was perceived as the clear result of an intelligence failure.
Besides Mr. Muwafi, Mr. Morsi fired the leaders of the Republican Guard and then removed the chief of military police. Meanwhile, Mr. Tantawi, Mr. Enan as well as the head of each of the armed forces were replaced.
Some see this as payback. The military and the intelligence service had opposed Mr. Morsi and his backers in the presidential campaign. Mr. Tantawi and Mr. Enan led the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
The new defense minister, Lt. Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, was part of the Supreme Council, too, but is 20 years younger than his predecessor. He has different views about the appropriate relationship between military and civilian leaders.
Some observers believe that the replacements reflect a generational transition within the military more than anything else.Mr. Tantawi has long been criticized for having an outdated perspective on Egyptian security.
Some critics suspect that Mr. el-Sissi has sympathies for the Muslim Brotherhood, a charge that others dismiss as fantastic given his rise under the previous government. There is no indication that he favors an Islamic government in Cairo. He appears to back the rule of law and civilian-led government. That’s why he and Mr. Morsi — a democratically elected leader — deserve the chance to put their stamp on governance in Egypt.
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