Egypt's new Islamist president Mohamed Morsi dismissed Cairo's two top generals on Sunday and cancelled a military order that curbed his powers, in a dramatic move that could free him of some of the restrictions of military rule.
It was not clear how far the measures were agreed with the dismissed Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, whose Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) took over when Hosni Mubarak was deposed - nor how far they would shift the power balance between the generals and Mr. Morsi's long-suppressed Muslim Brotherhood.
A member of the military council told Reuters that Mr. Morsi, a moderate Islamist popularly elected in June but with constitutional powers sharply circumscribed in advance by the generals, had consulted Tantawi, 76, and General Sami Enan, 64, the military chief of staff, before ordering both men to retire.
However, coupled with what Mr. Morsi's spokesman described as the cancellation of the constitutional declaration issued just before Mr. Morsi's election, by which Tantawi and his colleagues curbed presidential powers, the surprise move seemed to indicate a substantial reordering of Egypt's political forces as it waits for a new constitution after six decades of unbroken army rule.
"Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi has been transferred into retirement from today," presidential spokesman, Yasser Ali, said in a statement. In his place as armed forces chief and defence minister, Mr. Morsi appointed General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Mr. Enan was replaced General Sidki Sobhi. Both retirees, whose positions may have been weakened by an embarrassing military debacle last week against Islamist militants in the Sinai desert, were appointed as advisers to the president.
"The decision was a sovereign one, taken by the president to pump new blood into the military establishment in the interests of developing a new, modern state," Mr. Ali told Reuters after making the announcement.
It was a critical decision and the members of the military council understood this because they are patriotic and General Sisi is from the new generation of the patriotic men of the armed forces. He is responsible and well respected," said Mr. Ali.
Mr. Enan was long seen as particularly close to the U.S. military which has been the main sponsor of Egypt's armed forces. Tantawi, Mubarak's defence minister for 20 years, then helped ease the former president out of office on Feb. 11, 2011 in the face of mass street protests.