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Egypt Reshuffle Puts New Defense Chief, Vice President in Spotlight

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi swears in newly-appointed Minister of Defense, Lt. Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012.
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi's surprise Sunday reshuffle of senior government positions has put the spotlight on two officials who were little known outside of Egypt: his new defense minister and new vice president.
Defense Minister General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi previously served as Egypt's military intelligence chief in the military council that took power after the ouster of longtime president Hosni Mubarak in a February 2011 uprising. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or SCAF, transferred executive powers to President Morsi in June.
As a SCAF member, Sissi's only noteworthy public statements came in a discussion with London-based rights group Amnesty International a year before. In the discussion, he acknowledged that Egyptian military personnel had carried out virginity tests on female activists detained in anti-SCAF protests, tests that Amnesty had criticized as a human rights abuse.
Virginity Test Admission
Sissi said the virginity tests were designed to protect the military from possible allegations of rape, but he also pledged the measures would not be repeated and called for a change in the culture of the security forces.
The virginity test revelations embarrassed SCAF, a body whose leaders included aging generals such as 76-year old Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, whom the 58-year old Sissi replaced.
Some Egyptian commentators said SCAF's generation gap was a source of division, enabling Morsi to side with younger generals such as Sissi and push out older members who stripped the president of many powers before he took office in June.
The depth of Sissi's relationship with Morsi is unclear.
Brotherhood Sympathies?
A prominent Egyptian talk show host and SCAF supporter, Tawfiq Okasha, recently accused Sissi of being a closet member of the Islamist president's Muslim Brotherhood movement. SCAF denied the claim in a statement on its Facebook page. The Egyptian military bars its personnel from joining the group.
Sissi also has ties to the United States. The Obama administration said Monday that it "knows" the new defense minister and looks forward to a strong partnership with him.
Vice President Mahmoud Mekki also is a newcomer to high office, filling a post that was vacant for decades until Mubarak gave it to Omar Suleiman in the days before his ouster. Previously, Mekki served as deputy head of Egypt's Court of Cassation, or appeal.
Fighting Judicial Interference
As a judge in the Mubarak era, Mekki became a prominent advocate for judicial independence from government interference.
In 2005, Mekki accused some judicial officials of rigging Mubarak's 2005 re-election, prompting authorities to put him on trial for slander. He was acquitted of wrongdoing the following year.
During Mekki's trial, members of the then-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood opposition movement protested in support of him. Some opposition members urged Mekki to challenge Mubarak at the polls, but he declined.
The new vice president's political affiliation is not known. But, he is a brother of Morsi's justice minister Ahmed Mekki - a family connection that has some Egyptians concerned about a potential conflict of interest.

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