The United States was unsurprised by Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi’s decision to shake-up the country’s top military leaders, according to media reports on Monday.
U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton had been made well aware of ongoing discussions on a new Egyptian defense team before the announcement Mursi made on Sunday.
“We obviously did know that there were discussions ongoing about a new defense team - with regard to the precise timing, less so,” said State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland.
On Sunday, Mursi forced Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi to retire and scrapped a recent constitutional document that gave the military legislative and other powers.
His military reshuffle took the nation by surprise. It transformed his image overnight from a weak leader to a savvy politician who carefully timed his move against the military brass who stripped him of significant powers days before he took office on June 30.
Tantawi was replaced by Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, whom White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters said was known to the United States from his previous position and whose appointment it welcomed.
The generals had assumed presidential powers after the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak last year.
“It is important for the Egyptian military and civilian leadership to work closely together to address the economic and security challenges facing Egypt.
“We hope that President Mursi’s announcement will serve the interests of the Egyptian people, Carney added,
As the U.S. gives more than $1bn in aid to the Egyptian military, it would expect some degree of consultation or warning, BBC analyst Kim Ghattas said on Monday.
The Pentagon, a large aid donor to Egypt’s army, said it expected to maintain close ties with the military.
Although President Mursi’s announcement startled observers, the BBC’s Kim Ghattas in Washington says the U.S. showed no sign of surprise.
When Nuland was asked to explain why Mursi did not coordinate his move with the military she said it was up to the Egyptian government to explain why.
Administration officials emphasized that the new leaders named by Mursi were “well known” to them and people that Washington has worked with before, including many that have trained in the States.
Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said: “The United States and the Department of Defense in particular look forward to continuing a very close relationship with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces,” in comments made to Haaretz news.
The announcement of the new appointees came amid growing tensions in the north of Sinai, after an attack by militants killed 16 Egyptian soldiers took place last week.
Nuland said that Sinai security has a direct impact on the new government’s relationship with neighboring Israel.
“Obviously there are security issues in Sinai that have to be dealt with … As the Egyptians work to gain control of Sinai, the way they do it obviously has an impact on their neighbors, has an impact on the region, has an impact on their existing security and treaty relationships, and we want to see all of those things go smoothly,” Nuland said.
Alongside the military shake-up, President Mursi also canceled a constitutional declaration that granted the military large amounts of power. He said his move was taken for the benefit of Egypt and its people and was not an intention to “embarrass institutions.”
Egypt’s military signaled its acquiescence on Monday to the president’s surprise decision to retire the defense minister and chief of staff and retake powers that the nation’s top generals grabbed from his office.
A posting on a Facebook page known to be close to the country’s military said the changes amounted to the “natural” handing over of leadership to a younger generation.
“A greeting from the heart filled with love, appreciation and respect to our leaders who passed on the banner. They will be in our eyes and hearts,” said the posting. “The armed forces is a prestigious institution with a doctrine of full discipline and commitment to legitimacy.”