For all the recent political turbulence that Egypt has been through, no one saw this coming.
President Mohamed Morsi quietly put an end to the political career of Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the country’s defence minister for more than 20 years.
After the June 5 attack on a border patrol left 16 soldiers dead in the Sinai Peninsula, the country’s leadership – both civilian and in uniform – was peculiarly quiet. Late and terse statements did not quench the public’s thirst for answers.
The sacking of the head of the intelligence a few days earlier showed the country’s president wanted accountability. But no one thought the price would extend to the head of the military and his deputy.
After all, both Tantawi and General Sami Anan, the two most powerful members of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), long appeared invincible – both during the period SCAF took control over the country and even after Morsi’s election in June.
Whether Tantawi was really pushed out because of the army’s failure to protect the young soldiers who were brutally slain on the border, or whether Morsi merely used the attack to end his political career, remains a mystery.
But Morsi certainly wanted the field marshal’s “retirement” to appear graceful – he awarded him the country’s highest honour, the Nile Medal, and made him a presidential adviser, something that is already angering the revolutionaries.
Still, no one is under any illusion that this was anything but a sacking.
In Egypt, the culture of accountability is almost non-existent and people are not used to seeing officials resign, let alone be sacked, over wrongdoing.
So when people demanded heads to roll after the border attack, for many, it was a mere aspiration.
Morsi’s move to sideline Tantawi and other military commanders – irrespective of the motives and eventual outcome – signals that the Second Republic is a new era indeed.