By Ray Fleming

THERE was an historic shift in the military-civilian balance of power in Egypt over the weekend as the elected President Mohamed Morsi announced the resignation of Field Marshall Tantani, head of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, and the departure of several other generals whose service dates back to Hosni Mubarak's time. Morsi said the changes were “for the benefit of the nation and its people” and that the army would focus on “the holy mission of protecting the nation.” He also said that he had annulled the military's intention to reserve special powers in the country's constitution when it is eventually drafted. Long-term observers of Egyptian politics said yesterday that this is the first time that an elected civilian has overruled military authority.

President Morsi has probably taken advantage of the army's failure to stop the killing last week of 18 Egyptian soldiers by Islamic militants in Sinai; he dismissed the officer in charge who admitted he had received a warning of an attack but had ignored it because he “could not imagine Muslims killing Muslims during the meal to break their daily Ramadan fast”. Whether there will be a negative reaction to the strong line Morsi is taking remains to be seen but initial reactions from the media and the street have been favourable to his bid to put the elected presidency in the seat of power.

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