The power struggle that has pitted Egypt’s first democratically elected president against his country’s courts and military has drifted into murky legal waters, leaving analysts, officials and ordinary Egyptians scratching their heads over the question: who has the law on their side?
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will travel to Cairo on Saturday amid growing concern in Washington that the turmoil could imperil the democratic transition in a nation that has been an important U.S. ally in the Middle East.
The tussle in Cairo centers on a decision last month by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), Egypt’s top military panel, to dissolve the Islamist-dominated parliament after the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that a third of the chamber’s members had been illegally elected.
Egypt’s Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, has sought to reinstate parliament and he briefly managed to reconvene legislators on Tuesday in defiance of the generals. The court later suspended the presidential decree that ordered the reopening of the legislature.
The Court of Cassation, Egypt’s highest appeals court, will review an appeal against the dissolution of parliament on July 17.
Mr. Morsi, meanwhile, has proposed talks with judicial authorities and political forces to try to defuse the crisis.
Scholars are divided on whether the constitutional court has overstepped its mandate.
“Nobody knows anymore,” said Michele Dunne, director of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East who was in Cairo this week.
“Egypt is getting into a situation where you’ve got the presidency, the SCAF and the Supreme Constitutional Court all using their powers against each other, which is unfortunate and strange,”she added.
Court in power struggle
Opinions on the power struggle are colored by politics.
“Not surprisingly, opinions seem to coincide with political sympathies,” said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Institution’s Doha Center in Qatar. “This isn’t about the law as much as it is ultimately about politics.”
Samer Shehata, an assistant professor of Arab politics at Georgetown University, said, “It is a power struggle, and clearly the court is a political actor.”
Although the court has the right to issue a ruling on a matter, it does not have the right to actually execute that judgment, he added.