CAIRO -- President Mohamed Morsi on Sunday ordered two of Egypt's top military officials to retire and canceled a declaration by the military that had given the country's generals sweeping legislative and budgetary powers.
The announcement, which came unexpectedly, was made by the president's spokesperson. It followed last week's militant attack in the Sinai peninsula that killed 16 border patrol officers and called into question the military's preparedness.
Morsi removed the commander of the armed forces, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, and the chief of staff of the armed forces, Gen. Sami Anan, appointing them instead as presidential advisors. He also named a senior judge, Mahmoud Mekki, as vice president.
It was not immediately clear whether the two military leaders agreed with the decision or whether it had the blessing of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. The council ruled Egypt following the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011 and has been locked in a power struggle with Morsi since the Islamist president took office June 30.
Gen. Mohamed Assar, a member of the council who was appointed as the defense minister's deputy, told Reuters news service that "the president's decision to order Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi to retire from his posts of defense minister and head of the armed forces was taken in consultation with him and the army council."
Analysts have previously pointed out that the position of presidential advisor is largely a symbolic role.
Morsi appointed Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah Sisi as the new head of the armed forces and defense minister. He promoted Lt. Gen. Sobhy Sedky to be the new chief of staff of the armed forces.
The newly appointed officials were sworn in by Morsi at the presidential palace.
Several activists and human rights advocates applauded the decision, but called for Morsi to put Tantawi on trial in the deaths of protesters since the military council assumed power.
Sisi, a member of the military council who was formerly head of military intelligence, is known among Egyptian activists and human rights advocates for his infamous interview with Amnesty International in June 2011. In the interview, he admitted that virginity "tests" were carried out on women detained during anti-government protests, saying they "were carried out to protect the army against possible allegations of rape and added that the army does not intend to detain women again."
For the record, Aug. 12, 1:03p.m.: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated that Sobhy Sedky is a lieutenant colonel. He is a lieutenant general.
-- Reem Abdellatif
Photo: Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, right, swears in newly appointed Defense Minister Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah Sisi in Cairo on Sunday. Credit: Associated Press / Egyptian Presidency