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Morsi defends military reshuffle amid foreign doubts

Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi's removal of army chief and defense minister Hussein Tantawi and several senior generals was met with enthusiasm Sunday night in Cairo. The US and Israel remain wary.

Morsi's decision to retire Tantawi, and his suspension of constitutional amendments issued by the military restricting presidential powers, was celebrated by thousands of Egyptians in Cairo's Tahrir Square. That city-center square had played host to violent protests that led to the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak last February.

In an address to the Egyptian people Sunday evening, Morsi said that his move was not personal.

Watch video 01:25

Shake-up in Egypt

"The decisions I took today were not meant ever to target certain persons, nor did I intend to embarrass institutions, nor was my aim to narrow freedoms," he said. "I did not mean to send a negative message about anyone, but my aim was the benefit of this nation and its people."

In his speech, Morsi praised the work of the armed forces, saying his decision would free them to focus on their professional tasks.

According to experts, rifts among Egypt's top military brass and a deadly attack in the Sinai peninsula that killed 16 Egyptian border guards - leading to the largest military operation in the area since a 1973 war with Israel - provided Morsi with the opportunity to make the move.

Egyptian press on Monday described Morsi's move as "revolutionary," with some saying it was aimed at curbing the powers of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).

"The Brothers officially in power," declared the Al-Watan daily, referring to the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group which backs Morsi and through whose ranks he rose before becoming president.

"The people support the president's decision," crowds in Tahrir Square chanted at Sunday's rally.

International questions

A handout picture released by the Egyptian Presidency shows (L-R) Egyptian Prime Minister Kamal Ganzoury, head of the military council Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, President Mohamed Morsi, and armed forces Chief of Staff Sami Anan during a graduation ceremony from the Air Force Academy, in Sharqiya, 140 km north east of Cairo, Egypt, July 10, 2012.

Tantawi, second from left, was said to have "retired"

Other nations, though, expressed concern over Morsi's apparent consolidation of power.

"We are following what is happening there with great concern," an unnamed Israeli official told AFP.

"The change of security and military leadership in Egypt will require Israel to open channels of dialogue with the new figures, not all of whom are familiar faces," wrote the Israeli Maariv newspaper.

The moves were also met with skepticism in the United States.

Jay Carney, spokesman for US President Barack Obama, said he hoped that the shake-up "will serve the interests of the Egyptian people and maintain good relations with Egypt's neighbors."

Although Carney did not name Israel, it was a clear reference to concerns about Egyptian-Israeli relations. Though the two nations signed a peace treaty in 1979, relations have remained frosty. US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland also noted that the "security issue in the Sinai" was a major concern for the United States.

Some in Egypt are concerned as well.

In Cairo, daily newspaper Al-Shorouk wrote that Morsi's actions meant he was accumulating "much bigger prerogatives than those of Mubarak."

And at Sunday's rally, some in the crowd mocked defense minister Tantawi's departure, which was officially called a "retirement."

"Marshal, tell the truth, did Morsi fire you?" they asked.

Morsi has replaced several top officials since taking office on June 30. Last week, he replaced Egypt's spy chief and dismissed top security and political officials in the Sinai in the wake of the violence there.

bm/msh (AFP, dpa, IPS, Reuters)

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