Egypt's military on Monday welcomed President
Mohammed Morsi's decision to force into retirement the two most
senior generals, saying the move was a "natural thing."
"Changing the army's leaders is a natural thing and the Armed Forces have never been a source of trouble for the country," the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) said in a statement on its official Facebook page.
Morsi on Sunday ordered the retirement of Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, who was defence minister, and army chief of staff Sami Anan.
"The council (SCAF) did its duty and steered Egypt to the port of safety. It proved it had no ambitions for power," read the statement.
It added that the latest replacements "have handed over responsibility to a new generation" in the army.
Tantawi headed the military council that ruled Egypt after Hosny Mubarak was toppled in February last year until Morsi took office in June.
Tantawi, 76, was replaced with Abdul-Fatah al-Sessi, a 57-year-old former head of military intelligence. Anan was replaced with Major General Sedki Sobhi, a 56-year-old army commander.
The surprise shake-up comes at a time when the army is engaged in an offensive against militants in the lawless Sinai desert, where 16 soldiers were killed in an attack in the town of Rafah on the border with the Gaza Strip more than a week ago.
Morsi also cancelled a temporary constitutional decree issued by the military in mid-June curtailing the president's powers and boosting those of the generals.
The military also retook legislative control after the country's top court in June dissolved the lower house of parliament where Islamists, including Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, had a majority.
Under Morsi's decreee, he will have legislative powers until a parliamentary election is held later this year.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohammed ElBaradei praised Morsi's decisions, saying that ending the military's political role was a step in the right direction.
However, ElBaradei, the former head of UN nuclear watchdog, called on Morsi not to keep legislative control for long.
"A president having both executive and legislative powers contradicts the core of democracy and should be exceptional and temporary," ElBardei said in a tweet.
"What matters most now for setting things right is to re-form the Constituent Assembly to represent the whole spectrum of society," said ElBaradei.
He was referring to a commission set up by parliament to draft a new constitution.
Morsi defended his decisions in an address late Sunday, saying they were in the "interest of the nation and its people."
He will travel to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to attend an emergency conference of Muslim leaders, the state-run newspaper Al Ahram reported online.
The European Union said Morsi's decisions completed the handover of power to democratically elected civilian authorities in Egypt.
"The EU looks forward to a speedy completion of a new constitution that safeguards the rights and freedoms of all Egyptians, and to the holding of parliamentary elections as soon as possible thereafter that will complete the democratic transition," said a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton
Egyptian liberals fear that Islamists would try to influence the new constitution.
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