Egypt’s new president, Mohammed Mursi, is challenging the authority of the ruling military council by calling the recently dissolved parliament back into session.
In a nation where there is no tradition of law to speak of, Mursi’s action may technically be illegal. The Supreme Court invalidated about a third of the parliamentary elections on a technicality a few weeks ago, after which, the generals dissolved parliament. They issued “constitutional decree” that emasculated the powers of the president under the old constitution and declared legislative power within their authority as well.
Now Mursi is challenging that authority of both the military council and the court — widely seen as supporting the military.
The surprise move by President Mohammed Morsi, himself an Islamist, will almost certainly lead to a clash with the powerful generals who formally handed power to him on June 30 after spending 16 months at the nation’s helm following the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in a popular uprising.
The move also reflects confusion in the roles and powers of Egypt’s governing institutions, with the constitution in force under Mubarak suspended after the uprising and no new one adopted.
Open confrontation between the two sides is certain to plunge the country into a new bout of political instability, adding to the many woes Egypt has experienced since Mubarak’s ouster by a popular uprising in 2011. Already, the country has been beset by a surge of crime, a faltering economy, a seemingly endless series of strikes, sit-ins and demonstrations.
In the first sign of an imminent crisis, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the formal name of the body grouping the nation’s top generals, held an “emergency meeting” shortly after Morsi’s decree was announced.
The official Middle East News Agency said the generals met to “review and discuss the consequences” of Morsi’s decision. The council has yet to publicly comment on the president’s decision.
The decree by Morsi, a longtime member of the Muslim Brotherhood group, also called for new parliamentary elections to be held within 60 days of the adoption of a new constitution for the country, which is not expected before late this year.
Both sides in this confrontation can ill afford to have things spin out of control into violence. But in the end, the generals have the guns and perhaps it wouldn’t be a disaster for Mursi to be seen as being forced to back down. The more the generals throw their weight around, the more hollow their promise to hand power to a civilian government becomes obvious. Delegitimizing their authority may be more advantageous to Mursi down the road than forcing a street confrontation at this point.