President retires defence minister

Egypt's Islamist president has ordered the retirement of the defence minister and chief of staff and cancelled the military-declared constitutional amendments that granted the top generals wide powers previously reserved for the head of state.

It was not immediately clear whether president Mohammed Morsi's decision had the military's blessing, but the appointment of outgoing defence minister Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and Chief of Staff General Sami Annan as presidential advisers suggests that the nation's top two soldiers may have agreed in advance to the decisions.

Mr Morsi also ordered the retirement of the commanders of the navy, air defence and air force and appointed a senior judge, Mahmoud Mekki, as vice president. Mr Mekki is a pro-reform judge who publicly spoke against election fraud during Hosni Mubarak's 29-year rule before Mubarak was removed in last year's uprising.

Mr Tantawi was the head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) which took over after Mubarak was forced from power in February 2011 and Gen Annan was No 2 on the ruling council. The two men appointed to replace them were also members of the SCAF - something that could indicate either the military's agreement to the shuffle or splits at the highest level of the armed forces.

"The question is now will these decisions end that conflict and the duality of powers or will there be resistance?" said analyst Gamal Abdel-Gawad. "These are huge changes."

Mr Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood won both parliamentary and presidential elections in the first free and fair votes in Egypt's modern history. The group had been repressed under Mubarak, who ran a secular state.

The SCAF, which ruled Egypt for 17 months, stripped the presidency of many of its key powers before they handed the reins of office to Mr Morsi on June 30.

Days before the inauguration, the ruling generals decreed constitutional amendments that gave them the power to legislate after the military dissolved parliament, as well as control over the national budget. It also gave them control over the process of drafting a new constitution.

Mr Morsi has also taken control of the constitution drafting process. He decided that if the 100-member panel currently drafting the document did not finish its work for whatever reason, he will appoint a new one within 15 days and give it three weeks to finish its work. The draft will then be put to a vote in a national referendum within 30 days. Parliamentary elections will follow if the draft is adopted.

Presidential spokesman Yasser Ali told a news conference aired on state TV that Mr Morsi named a career army officer, Lt Gen Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, to replace Mr Tantawi and Lt Gen Sidki Sayed Ahmed to replace Gen Annan. Mr El-Sissi and Mr Mekki were sworn in shortly after the announcement.