Egyptian President Mohammad Mursi has been much more politically subtle than many gave him credit for. He has capitalised on popular fury at the dismissal of Egypt’s first freely elected parliament in generations by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, but he has not yet challenged the courts. By carefully calibrating his response and focusing on the generals’ arrogance, he has shown that his hatred of the armed forces will not dominate his presidency. The clever politics of his actions give more hope that an orderly transition to civilian rule may be more possible than many thought a few weeks ago.
In May, the Constitutional Court backed by the interim military government dismissed the parliament on a technicality just before the presidential elections, and Mursi surprised many after his victory when he announced that the parliament would reconvene. However, when it finally did, it did not launch a full-blown attack on the generals, but limited itself to a five-minute session in which it agreed to appeal and seek a second opinion from the Court.
Mursi has been clever not to criticise the Court. He did not attack the fragile legal structure of Egyptian governance during the interim period when there was no constitution. Instead, his presidential order revoking the generals’ dismissal of parliament did not bring the court into disrepute, but capitalised on deep popular discontent with the generals’ indefensible power grab just before the elections.
The current problem facing both the generals and Mursi is that there is no ultimate arbiter of how the country should be run. They will have to decide this on their own, without the benefit of a constitutional court because the court is operating in the vacuum of an interim jurisdiction.
So both sides know that if Scaf refuses to give way, Mursi will be able to muster millions of angry Egyptians in Tahrir Square. The generals will not be able to match that, and will therefore lose in the ultimate court of appeal, which is the people themselves.