UNLESS there is an unexpected backlash from generals addicted to power, Egypt’s President Mohammad Morsi seems to have succeeded in making his electoral power felt when he sacked the three services chiefs and retired the all-powerful Field Marshal Mohammad Hussain Tantawi. Even though the latter and chief of staff of the armed forces, Sami Anan, have been retained in the cabinet as advisers, Mr Morsi’s decision constitutes a blow to the military’s power and an end to Mubarak remnants. Mr Morsi combined this move with the annulment of the perverse decree which the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces issued on the eve of the presidential election. The decree had limited the president’s power barring him from controlling military affairs, and reserved budget-making for Scaf which arrogated to itself the right to legislate. This reduced Mr Morsi to the position of a ceremonial head of state. Sunday’s decision will hopefully reverse the balance of state power and reduce the military to its professional role.
While civilian ascension to supremacy was in the fitness of things, it was the situation in the Sinai that precipitated the matter and seemed to have goaded Mr Morsi into action. The military felt humi-liated for the way the militants attacked the Egyptian patrol guards, killing 16 soldiers and then attempting to cross into Israel. This focused world attention on the civilian-military equation in Egypt and highlighted the generals’ preoccupation with politics instead of their profession. Field Marshal Tantawi and Gen Anan had both appeared invincible and managed to rule for a year after Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow. The Aug 5 incident in the Sinai undermined their position, and Mr Morsi didn’t hesitate to make use of it. In explaining his action to his people, Mr Morsi went out of his way to reassure the army that he was not taking action against any institution, nor targeting any individual. Unless there is an unexpected power struggle and the generals try to sneak back to power through unconstitutional means, Mr Morsi’s action could turn out to be seminal, for it is a logical consequence of the Arab Spring and heralds the establishment of civilian supremacy deriving power from the people’s mandate.