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Source Al Jazeera

Can Morsi break the military’s hold on Egypt?

Mercredi 15 août 2012 - 18 h 17

Wednesday 15 August 2012


As the president fires the country’s powerful military leadership, we ask if this marks the end of a power struggle.

Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s president, has only been in power for two months but he seems to be keen to stamp his authority on Egypt.

In a move that surprised the nation, he dismissed Field Marshall Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, the chief of armed forces, and his number two, General Sami Annan. Tantawi had been in the post for more than 20 years.

"It was a very important and very crucial move .... We are trying to establish a new civilian and democratic regime .... This was a big battle between the military and the civilian [leadership]."

- Abdullah al-Ashaal, a former presidential candidate

In total, seven members of the military’s top brass were removed days after the chief of intelligence was fired over the recent attacks in Sinai.

General Abdel Fattah El Sissi, the former head of military intelligence, replaced Tantawi as defence minister.

In a speech on Sunday night, Morsi praised the armed forces and said he wanted them to concentrate on their role of protecting the nation.

In addition to the sackings, the president annulled a controversial supplementary constitutional declaration that transferred much of his power to the military. Instead he issued his own declaration, giving the president full executive and legislative powers.

And it was this move that was particularly welcomed in Tahrir Square, where Morsi’s supporters gathered to celebrate, chanting “Go away Field Marshall”.

"Honestly, it’s a right step and one that gives rights back to the people. It was completely natural that a president not be ruled by orders from his subordinates."

- A supporter of Mohamed Morsi

Egypt’s military played a pivotal role in the foundation of the modern state. After it overthrew the country’s monarchy in 1952, the four subsequent leaders of the country were military officers - a trend that only changed when Morsi was elected.

The military has historically been held in high regard by the Egyptian people, who praised their refusal to fire on peaceful demonstrators during the revolution.

But many Egyptians have grown tired of the military’s privileged position in society. Some estimate their vast business empire - that includes construction, hotel and petrol industries - is worth around 20 per cent of Egypt’s economy.

So, is this the beginning of a transition to civilian rule in Egypt? Or is the Muslim Brotherhood just tightening its grip on the country? And what role will Egypt’s wealthy military play in the future?

Inside Story, with presenter David Foster, discusses with guests: Abdullah al-Ashaal, a former presidential candidate; Dina Zakaria, a spokesperson for the Muslim Brotherhood; and Michael Wahid Hanna, a fellow at the Century Foundation.

"By the end of the Mubarak regime the military was the silent guarantor of the regime’s stability, but it didn’t necessarily have an active political role. That was reserved for the president and his inner circle. So this is not the norm for the military in terms of exercising direct political authority. Now clearly the ambitions of some military officers changed in reaction to the uprising in January 2011. It is unclear, with the sidelining of Tantawi and Annan, if this represents a new direction, perhaps a shift with respect to how the military wants to position itself politically .... Parliamentary elections loom large. The extended hold of the president on all the levels of authority I think is something we should be worried about."

Michael Wahid Hanna, a fellow at the Century Foundation