Egypt’s president Mohammed Mursi has sacked Field Marshal Mohammed Hussain Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf).
Tantawi has been the face of the country’s military since the overthrow of former dictator Hosni Mubarak. Thousands of people crowded into Tahrir Square on Sunday to celebrate his removal.
Mursi was elected president in June as the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood. Scaf passed a rule to restrict his powers days before he won. He quashed this on Sunday when he sacked Tantawi.
He also retired the army’s chief of staff and the commanders of both the navy and air force and appointed a vice president, Mahmoud Mekki. The post has been vacant since Mubarak fell.
“There is no doubt that these decisions are a step forward for the revolution. They would not have been taken at all if the masses had not paid for them in advance through the revolutionary uprisings,” said Haitham Mohammedain of the Revolutionary Socialists in Cairo.
“But we need to put more pressure on Mursi, not just applaud him. The military leaders must be brought to trial for their crimes against the people and against the revolution.
“Mursi must take more radical decisions and must clear out the figureheads of the old regime from the security services, the media and economic institutions of the state.” He added.
Mursi has replaced Tantawi with former head of military intelligence Abdel Fatah El-Sisi. This is the man who publicly defended humiliating “virginity tests” forced on women protesters detained in Tahrir Square last year.
Haitham points out that this shows the old state still remains in place. “Mursi’s removal of some of the leaders of the security apparatus who were openly hostile to the revolution and their replacement with others does not change the function of this apparatus”.
Mursi’s actions show the balance that he is trying to strike. The millions who voted for him and against Scaf’s candidate, Ahmed Shafiq, expect Mursi to deliver change.
A recent wave of strikes showed the growing impatience and anger among workers, some of which was directed at Mursi himself.
Electricity blackouts and water shortages have triggered protests by residents in poor areas. There is intense pressure from below for the revolution to continue and deepen.
From the other direction, elements within the state are openly planning a counter-revolution. They are a real threat to both the Brotherhood and revolutionaries.
So a realignment in the balance of forces at the top of the state is fraught with danger for a reformist like Mursi. His moves may establish a more stable alliance between the Brotherhood and sections of the military which benefit from the shake-up.
But they may also reinvigorate the campaign for a “cleansing” of the state from below.
An attack on the Rafah crossing, which links Egypt to Gaza, has sparked new tensions in the region.
The official story has it that “Islamic militants” were responsible for the raid that killed 16 Egyptian soldiers two weeks ago. The Egyptian government responded by bombing “extremist targets” in the region.
But many Egyptians are sceptical of the claim, and suspect that the Israeli military were responsible for the attack.
Israel has long wanted Egypt to close the Rafah crossing into Gaza. It occupied the Sinai region in the 1973 war. Its military withdrew in 1982, but it has restricted Egyptian forces in the region ever since.
The vast majority Sinai’s inhabitants live in poverty and face routine harassment for supporting the Palestinians.
Now the Israeli government has seized the opportunity to put pressure on the Egyptian government. It claims Sinai is full of militants who endanger both Israel and Egypt.
Israeli officials tried to blame all their enemies at once for the attack. They accused Bedouin militants linked to Egyptian revolutionaries backed by Hamas or Iran in various guises.
Hamas, which governs the Gaza strip under Israeli blockade, was quick to distance itself from the attack. It hopes the Muslim Brotherhood will aid Gaza.
But Egypt’s president Mohammed Mursi closed the crossing and tunnels that provide a lifeline to the besieged territory. Egypt was due to reopen the crossing for three days this week.
20% of Egypt’s population is below the poverty line
30% of its economy is controlled by the military
10 factories are directly owned by Egypt’s military
Strikes and protests are continuing across Egypt. More than 250 petroleum engineers were maintaining a sit-in strike near the city of Port Said as Socialist Worker went to press. They want to be employed directly instead of through another company.
Doctors at Al-Zuhour Central Hospital in Port Said and the city’s ambulance workers were also on strike. Both are protesting at the lack of security for health workers who face regular violent attacks from patients.
Around 7,000 textile workers in Kafr al-Dawwar on the Nile Delta were reported to have locked management out of their factory in a protest over bonuses.