- Associated Press - Sunday, August 12, 2012

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s Islamist president ordered the retirement of the defense minister and chief of staff on Sunday and canceled the military-declared constitutional amendments that granted the top generals wide powers previously reserved for the head of state.

It was not immediately clear whether President Mohammed Morsi’s decision had the military’s blessing. But the appointment of the outgoing defense minister, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, and the chief of staff, Gen. Sami Annan, as presidential advisers suggests that the nation’s top two soldiers may have agreed in advance to the decisions. Mr. Morsi also ordered the retirement of the commanders of the navy, air defense and air force.

Mr. Morsi on Sunday also appointed a senior judge, Mahmoud Mekki, as vice president. Mr. Mekki is a pro-reform jurist who publicly spoke against election fraud during President Hosni Mubarak’s 29-year rule before the leader was ousted in last year’s uprising.

Field Marshal Tantawi was the head of Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which took over after Mubarak was forced from power in February 2011, and Gen. Annan was No. 2 on the ruling council. The two men appointed to replace them were also members of the SCAF — something that could indicate either the military’s agreement to the shuffle or splits at the highest level of the armed forces.

“The question is now, will these decisions end that conflict and the duality of powers or will there be resistance?” said analyst Gamal Abdel-Gawad. “These are huge changes.”

Mr. Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood won both parliamentary and presidential elections in the first free and fair votes in Egypt’s modern history. The group was repressed under Mubarak, who ran a secular state.

The SCAF, which ruled Egypt for 17 months, stripped the presidency of many of its key powers before they handed the reins of office to Mr. Morsi on June 30. Days before the inauguration, the ruling generals decreed constitutional amendments that gave them the power to legislate after the military dissolved parliament, as well as control over the national budget. It also gave them control over the process of drafting a new constitution.

On Sunday, Mr. Morsi took control of the constitution-drafting process. He decided that if the 100-member panel currently drafting the document did not finish its work for whatever reason, he will appoint a new one within 15 days and give it three weeks to finish its work. The draft then will be put to a vote in a national referendum within 30 days. Parliamentary elections will follow if the draft is adopted.

Presidential spokesman Yasser Ali told a news conference aired on state TV that Mr. Morsi had named a career army officer, Lt. Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, to replace Field Marshal Tantawi and Lt. Gen. Sidki Sayed Ahmed to replace Gen. Annan.

Gen. el-Sissi and Mr. Mekki were sworn in shortly after the announcement.

The outgoing navy commander, Lt. Gen. Mohab Mameesh, was named executive chairman of the Suez Canal, the strategic waterway linking the Red Sea and the Mediterranean and a major source of revenues for the country.

Lt. Gen. Abdel-Aziz Seif, the outgoing air defense commander, was named head of a major industrial military complex owned by several Arab nations and established in the 1970s.

A senior member of the SCAF, Maj. Gen. Mohammed el-Assar, was named assistant defense minister. Another career army officer, Lt. Gen. Reda Mahmoud Hafez, was named minister of state for military production to serve under Prime Minister Hesham Kandil, a former water minister promoted by Mr. Morsi earlier this month.

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