Mohammed Morsi Makes His Move

August 13, 2012

New Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi yesterday ordered the retirement of Defense Minister Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi as well as the military’s Chief of Staff Gen. Sami Annan. Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, is Egypt’s first democratically elected president. Morsi also restored to the presidential office powers that were taken from it by the military before his election.

Earlier today, Egypt’s military signaled its acquiescence to the shake-up. A posting on a Facebook page known to be close to the country’s military said the changes amounted to the “natural” handing over of leadership to a younger generation. Furthermore, the country’s official news agency quoted an unnamed military official yesterday as saying there has been no “negative reaction” from within the military.

Morsi has appointed Tantawi and Annan to be his presidential advisers during their retirement. This has sparked speculation that the shake-up of the military brass was part of a “safe exit” deal struck between Morsi and the generals to shield them against prosecution for any alleged crimes during the time they ruled the country.

If Morsi’s decisions go unchallenged, it could end the power struggle that pitted him against the military. It could also mean the end of six decades of de facto military rule since army officers seized power in a 1952 coup d’état.

President Morsi has pledged that Egypt under his leadership will be inclusive, and he has courted both secular and Christian voters. He’s promised to end “discrimination against any Egyptian based on religion, ethnicity or gender.” But, the U.S.-educated leader is an unabashed Islamist, and fears are being raised that his move to retire Egypt’s top military brass may put too much power in the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Morsi was born in the Nile Delta province of Sharqiya and graduated with an engineering degree from Cairo University in 1975. He received a PhD from the University of Southern California, where he was an assistant professor in 1982. He was a member of an anti-Israel group, the Committee to Resist Zionism, but dedicated much of his time to the Muslim Brotherhood, which first fielded him in a parliamentary election in 2000.

In a 2005 election, which gave the Brotherhood one-fifth of the seats in parliament, he kept his seat. But he was soon arrested and jailed for seven months after participating in protests supporting reformist judges. By the 2010 election, Morsi had become a spokesman for the Islamists and a member of their politburo. He was jailed again on the morning of January 28, 2011, a day after the Brotherhood announced it would join the protests that would topple president Mubarak almost two weeks later.

The Muslim Brotherhood believes in establishing an Islamic state gradually and through peaceful means.

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