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Egypt's Morsi puts military on right side of history

The elected president, Mohamed Morsi, purged the top brass that had constrained his authority. With civilian rule asserted, Morsi's own Muslim Brotherhood must now also bend to popular will and not use the state to hold onto power.

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Newly-appointed Egyptian Minister of Defense, Lt. Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, left, meets with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi in Cairo, Aug. 13. Morsi’s shake-up of the military on Sunday took the nation by surprise but it has transformed his image from a weak leader to a savvy politician who carefully timed his move against generals who stripped him of significant powers days before he took office on June 30.

AP Photo/Egyptian Presidency

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Now well into its second year, the Arab Spring advanced in a surprising way this week, but not in the streets or by bloodshed.

Egypt’s newly elected president, Mohamed Morsi, showed the military’s top brass where real power lies – not in guns, but in a free people governing themselves.

On Sunday, Mr. Morsi sacked the top commander, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, as well as other top officers. Many of them had long served Hosni Mubarak, the dictator who was ousted last year. They had placed threatening constraints on the young democracy, such as a veto over the writing of a constitution.

Civilian oversight of the military is a basic pillar of any democracy. Morsi’s move helps cement that concept in Egyptian society, which has been ruled by Army leaders for 60 years, starting with Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Backroom struggles with the military may continue, but the move serves as a beacon for other Arab nations whose rulers still rely on weapons for legitimacy – even though Arabs today are less fearful of standing up for civic virtues such as individual rights.

Morsi probably worked with younger officers to achieve this so-called soft coup. They have been promoted. He was also helped by the Aug. 5 attack by jihadists on a Sinai border post with Israel, in which 16 Egyptian soldiers were killed. The military looked weak.

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