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President Morsi Ousts Egypt’s Defense Minister, Rewrites Power Restrictions

August 13, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT

GWEN IFILL: Finally tonight, Egypt’s new president makes a surprise move to seize more political power and curb the authority of the military.

Margaret Warner has the story.

MARGARET WARNER: The news was cheered last night by supporters of president Mohammed Morsi, many of them fellow members of the Muslim Brotherhood, who rallied in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

AHMED HASSAN, Egypt (through translator): These are bold decisions that we have been waiting for, for so long. These decisions are to complete the revolution. The revolution started to succeed.

MARGARET WARNER: They were reacting to Morsi’s surprise ouster of the country’s top military brass, including powerful defense minister Hussein Tantawi. All were ordered to retire.

Morsi also nullified a constitutional declaration issued just before his election, shifting vast powers from the president to the military.

MOHAMMED MORSI, Egyptian president (through translator): Today’s decisions are not directed at certain persons or meant to embarrass certain institutions.

MARGARET WARNER: His action comes on the heels of his sacking the nation’s intelligence chief after 16 Egyptian soldiers were killed by militants in Sinai.

Tantawi, longtime defense minister under former President Hosni Mubarak, took part in forcing Mubarak’s resignation early last year. And for 18 months after, he and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces ruled Egypt.