Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi Orders Retirement of Top Military Officials | Defense Minister Tantawi, Chief of Staff; Commanders of Navy, Air Defense, Air Force

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi swears in his newly-appointed Minister of Defense, Lt. Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012. (Photo: AP)

Egypt’s Islamist President Mohammed Morsi ordered the “retirement” of the country’s top military officials Sunday in what appears to be the boldest move towards seizing absolute authority since he was elected.

Experts have long maintained that Egypt has little to fear from the Muslim Brotherhood or growing extremism because the military, which retained significant control after Morsi’s election, acted as a counterweight.  With military leaders being replaced by Morsi appointees, that balance of power is effectively useless.

(Related: Democracy in Action? Egyptian Court Orders Newspaper Critical of Pres. Morsi Confiscated)

The Jerusalem Post adds:

Taking advantage of the Sinai crisis to oust his rivals in the military, Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi fired Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi and the Egyptian chief of staff Sami Anan on Sunday, in a move that sent shock waves throughout Egypt and beyond.

The move is being widely seen as a signal by the Muslim Brotherhood that power is now firmly concentrated in the hands of the Islamist civilian government.

[...]

“Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi has been transferred into retirement from today,” presidential spokesman said in a statement, appointing in his place as armed forces chief and defense minister General Abdellatif Sisi.

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi Orders Retirement of Top Military Officials | Defense Minister Tantawi, Chief of Staff; Commanders of Navy, Air Defense, Air Force

President Mohammed Morsi, right, recently met with U.S. defense Secretary Leon Panetta, center, and the former leader of Egypt's military, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, left. He sought assurances the two would work together during the tumultuous transition. (Photo: AP)

But that’s not all.  Adding to the sweeping changes in the military leadership, the president also ordered the retirement of the commanders of the navy, air defense, and air force.  He also appointed a senior judge, Mahmoud Mekki, as vice president.

Mohammed Aboul-Ghar, a founder of the new Egyptian Social Democratic Party, said the power struggle between Morsi and the military has now been settled in Morsi’s favor.

“The military council was forced out of power and lost its position and this was inevitable,” he said. “In the power struggle, the military council was increasingly weakened because of its decisions” and its failure to secure a more straightforward path to democratic transition, he explained.

Morsi, a U.S.-educated engineer, has been intensely seeking to assert his authority in the face of the powerful military.  On Wednesday, he fired the nation’s intelligence chief after militants killed 16 Egyptian soldiers along the border with Israel in Sinai, and is apparently using the conflict as an excuse to rapidly reshuffle his opposition.

CNN has further analysis:

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which ruled Egypt for 17 months after longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak stepped down, stripped the presidency of many of its key powers before handing the reins of office to Morsi on June 30. Tantawi was the head (SCAF) and Annan was No. 2 on the ruling council.

With Sunday’s moves, Morsi restored the powers to his office– most significantly, taking back control of the constitution drafting process and the right to legislate.

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

Commenters on Arab media sites have had mixed reactions.  Some are excited about the changes, while others are concerned that Egyptians will “starve to death” if the Muslim Brotherhood continues expanding its authority and the West chooses to stop aid payments.

“He is becoming even more powerful than Hosni Mubarak used to be,” Egyptian political analyst Hani Nesira remarked.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.