* President shakes off stiff image with dramatic move
* Challenge to military carries risks
* More powers also means Mursi may carry more blame
By Edmund Blair and Yasmine Saleh
CAIRO, Aug 14 A blunder by the Egyptian army
that left 16 border guards dead at the hands of Islamist
militants gave President Mohamed Mursi an unexpectedly early
chance to claw back powers from a military whose political
influence he had always wanted to restrict.
A week after the raid on Egypt's Sinai border that outraged
ordinary Egyptians and some soldiers, angry at what they saw as
a failure in military leadership, Mursi on Sunday dismissed the
country's two top generals and tore up an army decree that had
curbed his powers.
It was a dramatic move, all the more surprising coming from
a man who was the Muslim Brotherhood's last-minute candidate for
the presidential election that ended in June, pilloried at the
time as a stiff politician seen more as a Brotherhood
functionary than a statesman-in-waiting.
Few would label him so now, even if many say he could not
have been so audacious without the backing of the Brotherhood,
whose top officials long talked of rolling back the military's
influence but had spoken of it taking years.
His bold tactics still carry risks, even though the army has
so far shown no signs of challenging the move.
There may yet be a backlash from a Mubarak-era
establishment, the so-called "deep state", which will take years
to reform. In addition, with power concentrated in his hands,
Mursi has few others to blame for any failings as he works on
the mammoth task of fixing a crippled economy.
Yet his move to reshape the military leadership when it was
on the defensive after the Sinai debacle and secure himself more
powers to deliver on policy is an early victory, even if more
political skirmishes with the army and others may erupt.
"President Mursi has been following closely the border
attacks and after that he felt that a change was needed in the
security leadership," a presidential source told Reuters,
explaining the timing of Sunday's army shake-up.
Mursi ordered out Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, 76,
Mubarak's defence minister for 20 years before he took charge of
Egypt when the former president fell. He also dismissed Chief of
Staff Sami Enan, 64.
Both were replaced by generals, in their 50s, from the
Supreme Council of the Armed Forces that Tantawi had led.
"His decisions were guided by what he saw would serve Egypt
best and the sentiments he felt from the troops he visited in
Sinai," the presidential source said.
Many Egyptians were angered that militants could have been
allowed to gain enough of a foothold in Sinai to stage such a
brazen assault that killed the 16 guards on Aug. 5, before
stealing vehicles and trying to storm the border with Israel.
Even some soldiers quietly grumbled. "In any decent state
the minister of defence would have been sacked over the border
killings," said one army major, speaking when the national
intelligence chief was replaced last week but before Tantawi was
The backdrop of public anger and signs of discontent in the
ranks offered an ideal chance to change the ageing top brass.
Several more junior officers interviewed by Reuters over the
past year said they were tired of a few top officers becoming
rich while the vast majority of soldiers struggle. Some spoke of
growing malaise in the army and slipping standards.
"Events in Sinai accelerated Mursi's moves. This is what the
Brotherhood wanted to do eventually. They ended up doing it a
lot earlier than everyone expected," said Shadi Hamid of the
Brookings Doha Centre.
Hamid said Mursi may have also been encouraged after winning
some public praise for the sacking a few days earlier of the
intelligence chief and North Sinai governor. Islamists and, more
unusually, some liberals turned up at the presidential palace
after that decision with banners saying "Yes to Mursi."
But Hamid said it was "premature" for the Brotherhood to
rest on its laurels or to count out the military.
"This was a risky move. It is not all rosy for Mursi. He has
to deliver now," he said. "There are certain elements in the
deep state that are not happy with a strong, assertive
For now, the army appears to have accepted the changes. A
general promoted in the shake-up and the presidential source
insisted Mursi consulted with Tantawi and the military council
beforehand, though they did not indicate whether or not the top
brass were happy about the decision.
A Facebook page affiliated to the military council carried a
statement saying the shift in command was a "natural change in
the leadership of the armed forces, transferring responsibility
to a new generation".
A senior Brotherhood official said Mursi needed to assume
more powers to deliver on economic and other policies, but those
had been denied him by the constitutional declaration issued by
the military as he was being elected.
"The nation came to have two heads - the president and the
military council," Mahmoud Ghozlan, a Brotherhood executive
bureau member, told Reuters. "The president had to act to
recover his full powers from the hands of the military council."
CALLS FOR PROTESTS
In Sunday's decree, Mursi also revoked the constitutional
declaration, taking back for the presidency amongst other things
legislative power in the absence of the Islamist-led parliament
that the army had dissolved based on a court ruling.
Calls for protests on Aug. 24 by Brotherhood opponents may
have been one more reminder to Mursi that he needed to deliver
on policy to avoid momentum against his rule building, even if
more power gives him fewer excuses for any failures.
"Mursi now holds the executive and legislative power. If he
uses it in an improper way this will trigger a lot of political
opposition," said political analyst Hassan Nafaa.
Yet, even with the army shorn of the powers it had sought to
retain, the military with its vast economic interests and
history of influence cannot be ignored by Mursi, and his decree
indicated he was still treading with some caution.
Tantawi and Enan were both kept on as "advisers" to the
president, dignifying their exit but also suggesting they
effectively had presidential protection from prosecution and so
would be spared the fate of Mubarak, a former air force
commander who was jailed for life after 30 years in power.
"The army remains a massive institution in the life of
Egypt. The fact that Mursi felt ... he needed to offer them
jobs, gives you an idea of how worried he is about the potential
for the backlash from the army," said a Western diplomat.
Yet Tantawi, who had always stayed in the shadows during
Mubarak's era and never appeared at ease in the spotlight as
interim leader, may also have been ready to step aside, provided
he had the right assurances.
"We know from our contacts with him that he is tired," said
the diplomat. "He has had enough but he doesn't want to retire
in a way that opens him up to prosecution."
Short of a full military coup, the army has had few
political channels to challenge Mursi's action after it formally
handed over to the elected president on June 30. But the army is
not without its allies or routes to press its cause.
The courts, which earlier overruled Mursi's decree to
reinstate the dissolved parliament, could still challenge the
latest decree too. A member of the Supreme Constitutional Court
has already questioned the legality of Mursi's decision.
Mursi has begun to whittle away at the state apparatus that
kept autocrats in power for decades. But having proved he won't
be a pushover, Mursi now faces the much bigger task of
delivering on the policies for which he was elected.
"It is clear now to everyone that Mursi is going to be a
strong, assertive president so I think he gotten what he wants
in the short term," said Hamid. "Now he has to turn to the
economy, now he has to turn to making tangible improvements in