Egypt's Tantawi to remain defense minister-general

CAIRO Thu Jun 28, 2012 6:10am EDT

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CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's armed forces chief will keep his post as defense minister in a new cabinet to be formed by President-elect Mohamed Mursi, a member of the military council said.

Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, 76, who served as defense minister for two decades under ousted leader Hosni Mubarak, will keep his post after Egypt's first Islamist president takes over, Major-General Mohamed Assar said in a rare appearance on a talk show on privately-owned CBC television on Wednesday night.

"The (new) government will have a defense minister who is head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces," he said.

Asked if this meant Tantawi would keep his defense portfolio, Assar said: "Exactly. What is wrong with that? He is the head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the defense minister and the commander of the armed forces."

Tantawi effectively pushed the 84-year-old Mubarak aside on February 11 last year when it became clear the security forces could not contain street protests against his 30-year rule.

The military council took charge, managing a turbulent and sometimes violent transition period in which Egypt's first free parliamentary and presidential elections have taken place.

The republic's past presidents, all drawn from the military, have had the title of supreme commander of the armed forces.

Yet Assar's assertion that Tantawi would remain in place even before Mursi has been sworn in on Saturday illustrates the limits the military seeks to set on his presidential authority.

The army council backed a supreme court decision on June 14 to dissolve the Islamist-dominated parliament on the grounds that rules were broken during its election six months ago.

The military council then assumed legislative powers, which Assar said it would exercise until a new assembly is elected.

In another of several actions which the Muslim Brotherhood denounced as a military coup before Mursi's election win was confirmed on Sunday, the council also named a newly created National Defence Council to run defense and foreign policies.

Although Mursi and his future prime minister will also serve on the council, they will be outnumbered by the generals in a body whose decisions will be taken by majority vote.

Assar insisted that Mursi, a 60-year-old U.S.-trained engineer, would have full presidential prerogatives, even as he set an apparent limit on his right to decide on war or peace.

"The president is the head of state with full powers. The president makes a decision to go to war in consultation with the military rulers," Assar said, adding that this was normal practice in other countries, including the United States.

(Writing by Marwa Awad)

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