Report From Cairo: Muslim Brotherhood vs. the Military, Round One

On Sunday night I was at the “No to Military Trials” conference at the Journalists’ Syndicate in Cairo where many people were lamenting the fact that the newly-elected president Mohamed Morsi was not standing up to the military. Then came the news alert: “Morsi orders dissolved Parliament back.” Morsi had just issued a decree “inviting [Parliament] to convene and exercise all its powers” until new parliamentary elections were held, which would be “within 60 days from the date of approval by Parliament of the new Constitution.” 

It appeared that the first salvo in the tussle for power between the Islamist president and the military had been fired. But this was a complex battle, and Morsi’s unexpected announcement got the cannons booming from all sides of the political spectrum. The Muslim Brotherhood’s website ran a statement from its Freedom and Justice Party’s vice chairman, Dr. Essam El Erian, praising the president for “the decree [that] rested legislative power back from SCAF [the military council].”

The rest of my evening (this was Sunday July 8th) was spent debating whether President Morsi had the authority to recall Parliament or not. My table of liberals immediately raised the issue of if it was legal. Soon liberal politicians were issuing press statements demanding that Morsi respect the rule of law. Mohamed ElBaradei tweeted: “The executive decision to overrule the Constitutional Court is turning Egypt from a government of law into a government of men.”
Then came the realization that, technically, Morsi had not overruled the judiciary, since it was the military and not the court that had dissolved Parliament. In mid-June, the new Parliament had been deemed “unconstitutional” by the Constitutional Court due to a problem with the electoral law but had been disbanded as a result of a military decree issued by SCAF.
SCAF’s order was controversial, as it was unclear whether the military has the legal authority to issue such declarations. The Muslim Brotherhood swallowed the pill at the time, preferring not to challenge the military. The liberal (secular) parties also kept quiet. The dissolution benefited the liberal parties as they held only 30 percent of the seats in Parliament, but polls suggest they would gain more if elections were held today.

The issue of the legality of SCAF’s decree is meant to be settled by the Administrative Court this week. The court could rule that SCAF does in fact have the authority to disband Parliament. But whatever the decision, the wrangling over who has authority over whom is unlikely to end.
My evening ended with more announcements: SCAF called an emergency meeting “to review and discuss the consequences” of Morsi’s decision. Some Egyptian commentators noted that Morsi’s announcement came just hours after his meeting with the US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, who talked of a “new partnership” with Egypt and came bearing an invitation to the White House. Meanwhile, the Freedom and Justice Party called for marches from mosques to Tahrir Square in support of Morsi’s decision to convene Parliament.

On the way back home, I saw cars going by with Egyptian flags flying, horns tooting, and a crowd of people celebrating in Tahrir Square.

About the photo: Tens of thousands celebrate Morsi’s victory in Tahrir Square, June 24, 2012. Photo by Jonathan Rashad.