Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi made a number of explosive moves over the weekend that many observers feel was the president’s attempt to reclaim some of the presidency’s and also a step to avert a coup attempt that some feel was a possibility in coming weeks.
Mursi forced two of the country’s top generals to retire, he shook up the top levels of his administration—mainly by purging the military officials—and he voided a constitutional addendum that had been instituted before he took office stripping the presidency of many of its powers.
“The decisions I made today were not directed at specific individuals or intended to embarrass any institution,” Mursi said in a televised speech, attempting to allay alarm about his actions. “I never meant to send a negative message to anyone, but what I was seeking was the interest of this country and its people.”
He said the two generals, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the defense minister, and Lieutenant General Sami Enan, the armed forces’ chief of staff, would now become presidential advisors. But most observers recognized Mursi’s moves as an attempt to grab power back from the military.
Mursi had just forced the head of the country’s intelligence service into retirement, in addition to firing other top security officials, after 16 Egyptian soldiers were killed by militants on August 5.
“The events in Sinai were important,” said Shadi Hamid, director of research at Brookings Doha Center. “They weren’t the cause but they did offer Mursi a pretext to reshuffle. Mursi is winning this particular period of the struggle, but we’ve learned from Egypt that the situation seems fluid. One day, the military seems on top and other days Mursi seems on top.”
Thousands of people flooded Tahrir Square in Cairo after word spread about Mursi’s moves, but it wasn’t clear to many whether the moves aided their cause. Many saw it as another step toward the completion of their uprising last year that pushed out Hosni Mubarak, but others viewed the moves as a sign of the growing influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, which backed Mursi’s presidency.
“There is no way that we can consider these surprise decisions to be in the interests of the reforms called for under the revolution,” said el-Saeed Kamel, the head of the secular Democratic Front party. He added that they were a “contradiction to the promises Mursi made.”
Egypt’s economy continues to struggles to recover from all the chaos the country has seen over the last nearly two years. There have been frequent labor strikes and power cuts in the summer months and international reserves have fallen to $14.4 billion, more than 50 percent below their levels in January 2011.