Egypt's Tantawi to remain defence minister

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iol new spic Mohamed Hussein Tantawi REUTERS Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of Egypt's ruling military council.

Cairo - Egypt's armed forces chief will keep his post as defence minister in a new cabinet to be formed by President-elect Mohamed Morsi, a member of the military council said.

Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, 76, who served as defence minister for two decades under ousted leader Hosni Mubarak, will keep his post after Egypt's first Islamist president takes over, Major-General Mohamed Assar said in a rare appearance on a talk show on privately-owned CBC television on Wednesday night.

“The (new) government will have a defence minister who is head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces,” he said.

Asked if this meant Tantawi would keep his defence portfolio, Assar said: “Exactly. What is wrong with that? He is the head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the defence minister and the commander of the armed forces.”

Tantawi effectively pushed the 84-year-old Mubarak aside on February 11 last year when it became clear the security forces could not contain street protests against his 30-year rule.

The military council took charge, managing a turbulent and sometimes violent transition period in which Egypt's first free parliamentary and presidential elections have taken place.

The republic's past presidents, all drawn from the military, have had the title of supreme commander of the armed forces.

Yet Assar's assertion that Tantawi would remain in place even before Morsi has been sworn in on Saturday illustrates the limits the military seeks to set on his presidential authority.

The army council backed a supreme court decision on June 14 to dissolve the Islamist-dominated parliament on the grounds that rules were broken during its election six months ago.

The military council then assumed legislative powers, which Assar said it would exercise until a new assembly is elected.

In another of several actions which the Muslim Brotherhood denounced as a military coup before Morsi's election win was confirmed on Sunday, the council also named a newly created National Defence Council to run defence and foreign policies.

Although Morsi and his future prime minister will also serve on the council, they will be outnumbered by the generals in a body whose decisions will be taken by majority vote.

Assar insisted that Mursi, a 60-year-old US-trained engineer, would have full presidential prerogatives, even as he set an apparent limit on his right to decide on war or peace.

“The president is the head of state with full powers. The president makes a decision to go to war in consultation with the military rulers,” Assar said, adding that this was normal practice in other countries, including the United States. - Reuters

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