Egypt's President Forces Key Military Heads To Retire

Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi made a surprise decision to force top military officers into early retirement.

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Egyptians are trying to understand the significance of yesterday's dramatic moves in Egypt. President Mohammed Morsi forced the retirement of key military figures. They're men who have effectively ruled Egypt since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak 18 months ago.

Now, Morsi has a much stronger hold on the reins of power, as we hear from NPR's Leila Fadel in Cairo.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: President Morsi appeared strong and confident in Sunday night's televised address at an annual Ramadan event.

PRESIDENT MOHAMMED MORSI: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: He says he made the decision to order the retirement of Egypt's military chiefs, Mohamed Hussein Tantawi and Sami Enan, to put the country on the right path. Morsi also annulled a military decree that severely curbed his authority.

The president's supporters like Amr Darrag of the Muslim Brotherhood called the military shakeup a necessary move.

AMR DARRAG: And believe that this is the end of the military rule of Egypt that had been there for more than 60 years.

FADEL: While many liberals also heralded the decisions, they worry that Morsi has become too powerful. Some are calling Morsi's maneuvers a countercoup. The military took control of the state after Mubarak was ousted, and now Morsi has taken it back.

There is some speculation here that Tantawi and Enan were given some guarantees, possibly immunity from prosecution over human rights abuses during their reign. The two military chiefs were awarded the nation's highest honors and were appointed presidential advisers. The question now: Will Morsi's decisions hold up?

Samer Shehata, an Egypt expert at Georgetown University, says it's unlikely the ousted generals will move overtly against the democratically elected leader.

SAMER SHEHATA: If Tantawi and Enan were to try to orchestrate a coup, it would be clearly against democracy. And I think it would be denounced internationally and domestically.

FADEL: But he says there are other ways through a court system that at times appears to do the generals' bidding, like ordering the dissolution of the Islamist dominated parliament earlier this year.

SHEHATA: Can the military cause other problems for Morsi? Yes, most certainly. Can the other elements of the security services cause problems also? They already have by simply not policing or doing their functions. It doesn't mean that it's smooth sailing from now on. But I think it's unlikely that this move can be overturned.

FADEL: The stunning developments here are being closely watched in the region and beyond. Israeli officials worry that the removal of the top generals could call into question the decades old peace treaty between the two nations. The United States has stayed largely quiet. American officials say it's an internal Egyptian matter.

Leila Fadel, NPR News, Cairo.

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