Following President Mohamed Morsy’s decision on Sunday to retire most of the military’s top brass including former Commander-in-Chief Hussein Tantawi and Chief of Staff Sami Anan and the quiet military response, it remains unknown whether or not the generals saw it coming.
Morsy appointed Tantawi and Anan as presidential advisors and awarded Tantawi Egypt’s top state honour, the Order of the Nile, for “invaluable services to the nation.” Anan was also honoured, receiving the prestigious Order of the Republic.
Former navy commander Mohab Mamish, air defence commander Abd El Aziz Seif-Eldeen and air force commander Mahmoud Hafez, the three service branch commanders who were retired alongside Tantawi and Anan, were all appointed to top civilian posts.
Mamish was made Chairman of the Suez Canal Authority, Seif-Eldeen Chairman of the Arab Organization for Industrialisation, and Hafez was appointed Minister of State for Military Production.
This list of honours and the lucrative civilian posts the retired generals have been awarded suggests that the reshuffle was amiable, or that Morsy at least aimed to avoid confrontation.
Major General Mohamed El Assar, who was promoted from Assistant Defence Minister for Armament Affairs to overall Assistant Defence Minister, told the press that Morsy had informed the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, which El Assar and all the retired generals sit on, of his decision in advance.
“The decision was based on consultation with the field marshal [Tantawi] and the rest of the military council,” El Assar told Reuters news agency.
Morsy did hold a meeting with SCAF on Saturday, one day before announcing the list of sackings and appointments.
However, Morsy’s presidential advisor for legal affairs, Mohamed Fouad Gad-Allah, told the press that SCAF leadership, including Tantawi and Anan, were taken by surprise by the news of their retirement and were not informed beforehand.
“The removals did not come as a result of the Rafah incident. [President] Mohamed Morsy is the authority elected by the people and he is responsible for enacting their will, which is to cancel the supplementary constitutional declaration so that the president could have all his powers,” Gad-Allah told Al-Masry Al-Youm.
“Morsy is the only one who can take any decision and there was no agreement between the president and the military council,” he added.
Nonetheless, the fact that both Tantawi and Anan were given high honours and appointed advisors and that the service branch commanders were all appointed to very influential posts that are nominally civilian but have traditionally been entrusted to retired generals favoured by the president, has raised concerns that Morsy’s latest move came with the blessing of SCAF and that it was a way to provide a “safe exit” for the once ruling generals.
The idea of a safe exit, where the military leaders willingly give up power in exchange of escaping legal or criminal prosecution for their actions, most notably the killing of hundreds of protesters in dozens of demonstrations since they took over, has been discussed before.
In order for Morsy to take such a bold step, he would need assurances from inside the military that there would be no retaliation. Tantawi and Anan’s replacements both come from within SCAF and El-Assar was promoted.
Even if the president did in fact sack the top two leaders without their knowledge, he would have to ensure support from the rest of the military.
The appointments of Mamish, Seif-Eldeen, and Hafez to three of the most lucrative posts, two of which (AIO chairman and minister of military production) mean being responsible for overseeing the military’s vast economic empire, estimated to make up from ten to 40 percent of the Egyptian economy, combined with other promotions within SCAF, could very well be the price for Tantawi and Anan’s removal.