Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi on Monday sacked the powerful army chief and annulled a constitutional amendment issued by the generals, in a drastic move by the new-to-power Islamists to shuffle the top brass of the entrenched military.
Mursi packed off Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi as well as second-in-command General Sami Anan into 'retirement' and appointed both of them as 'advisers' to the president. Both of them were also given Egypt's highest state honour -- the Nile Medal.
The shock announcement over state television came amid an ongoing military operation in Sinai, where 16 soldiers were killed in an attack by militants last week.
No reason was given immediately for the radical move and it was not clear whether this was a unilateral step by the country's first democratically elected president or if it was initiated after taking the military into confidence.
Field Marshall Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi was appointed minister of defence and general commander of the Egyptian forces, replacing 76-year-old Tantawi, presidential spokesperson Yasser Ali announced in a televised statement.
Sedky Sobhy, the commander of the Third Army, was appointed as chief of staff of the armed forces.
Mursi also appointed Mahmoud Mekki, the deputy head of the Cassation Court, as his vice president.
Mursi, 60, also annulled a constitutional addendum that was issued by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces on June 17, under which the army took control of legislative powers and limited the president's powers, after a Supreme Court verdict dismissed the elected parliament.
He also amended the SCAF-issued March 30, 2011, Constitutional Declaration.
The new Constitutional Declaration grants Mursi full executive and legislative authority, as well as the power to set all public policies in Egypt and sign international treaties.
The declaration also gives Mursi the right to form a new Constituent Assembly which has been tasked with drafting a new Egyptian constitution should any future developments prevent the current assembly from carrying out its responsibilities.
Mursi, a leader of Muslim Brotherhood, was elected president in June this year, at a time of a constitutional and legislative void in the country.
In the absence of a full-fledged constitution, it is still not clear whether the interim constitution gives the president the right to sack the army chief.
Mursi, also appointed SCAF member Mohamed al-Assar as deputy defence minister and head of naval forces, Mohab Mamish as head of the Suez Canal Authority while naming judge Mahmoud Mekki as his vice president.
Reda Hafez, the commander of the air force, was also retired and appointed as minister of military production.
Lieutenant General Abdel-Aziz Seif, the outgoing air defence commander, was named head of a major industrial military complex owned by several Arab nations and established in the 1970s.
The unexpected changes come as the Egyptian army is involved in an operation in the Sinai Peninsula where it lost three soldiers on Sunday.
"Given the circumstances, this is the right time to make changes in the military institution," Mourad Ali, a senior official with the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party which fielded Mursi in a May-June presidential election, said.
"He is a strong president, and he is exercising his authority," Ali said of the surprise decision.
According to Egyptian military sources, the army has killed five Islamist militants in Sinai and arrested several Palestinians who had allegedly crossed into Egyptian territories illegally.
Sinai is a strategic triangular peninsula located between Egypt, Israel, Gaza and Jordan. Militarisation there is governed by the articles of the Camp David Accord between Egypt and Israel.
The Muslim Brotherhood has historically been at loggerheads with the powerful army, and relations have not improved since the fall of Hosni Mubarak after a mass uprising last year.
These moves are the latest in a series of major decisions taken by Mursi since the deadly attack on troops in the Sinai peninsula on August 5.
The president last week had ordered spy chief Muraf Muwafi to retire in a reshuffle of military and intelligence ranks.