Egypt's powerful intelligence chief, a longtime mentor of President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, was removed and replaced by his deputy, security officials said Saturday.
Gen. Mohammed Farid el-Tohamy, in his mid 60s, was seen as a hardliner in the government crackdown against Islamists and secular dissidents and the news of his departure came after Egypt and Qatar, which backs Islamists like Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, began to mend their ties.
Al-Sisi met a special envoy of the emir of Qatar on Saturday, the latest step in a Saudi-brokered effort to repair relations, regional news agencies reported. Ties between Cairo and Doha deteriorated after then-army chief Sisi removed President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood from power in July 2013 following mass protests against his rule.
Saudi King Abdullah last month called on Egypt to back a deal under which Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain agreed to end an eight-month diplomatic dispute over Qatar's support for the Brotherhood and promotion of "Arab Spring" revolts.
"The two countries responded to it (the initiative) with full conviction", said a report from the Saudi news agency SPA. It is possible that El-Tohamy's hard crackdown on Hamas and Islamists related to the Muslim Brotherhood has turned him into the first victim of the two countries renewed relations. Though his departure was attributed to personal reasons, media reports have been rife with innuendos claiming he was removed for political reasons.
El-Tohamy was put in charge of the general intelligence agency immediately after el-Sisi, then head of the military, led the ouster of the elected President Mohammed Morsi in July 2013 following massive protests against his Islamist government.
El-Tohamy was el-Sisi's mentor when they both served in military intelligence under longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak. El-Tohamy went on to head one of the most important government financial watchdog agencies, the Administrative Control Authority, where he served until 2012 when Morsi replaced him. Two days after Morsi's ouster, el-Tohamy was named intelligence chief.
It is not clear if el-Tohamy's removal reflects a change in policy. However, it removes one of the most senior hawkish voices in el-Sisi's administration.
Several officials said el-Tohamy was relieved of his post for health reasons, although one official said a desire for "new blood" to deal with an increasingly complex security situation factored into the decision. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because an official announcement has yet to be made.
Retired Gen. Sameh Seif al-Yazal, who remains close to el-Sisi and the intelligence community, told The Associated Press that el-Tohamy was recently in the hospital for a hip replacement.
El-Tohamy returned on Dec. 12 from a trip to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
Since Morsi's ouster, authorities have led a heavy crackdown on his followers, other Islamists and the secular opposition. Thousands of people have been arrested and hundreds others killed in violent clashes. At the same time, security forces and troops have come under increasing attacks from militant groups.
The military and security forces have been hit by several startlingly bloody attacks, including an attack on the main security headquarters in Cairo, and a couple of attacks on troops in Sinai that killed dozens of soldiers.
The new intelligence chief is Khaled Fawzy, a longtime intelligence officer, who headed the national security agency.
Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report