Morsi's decision on parliament is risky politicking

Less than two weeks in office, Egypt's new president has taken a much stronger stance towards the military than many expected he would. But is it just political stagecraft?

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Did Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood strike a comprehensive deal with the military to bring President Mohammed Morsi into office? Or is the Brotherhood on a collision course with the generals in a contest for political power? The answer, surely, is somewhere in the middle of those two extremes.

Mr Morsi's decision on Sunday night to reconvene parliament seemed to set up a direct confrontation with the judiciary and, by extension, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. Instead, it seems more likely to be political stagecraft. Mr Morsi delivers on a campaign promise to restore the dissolved parliament, while for the time being the military avoids any major compromise.

Less than two weeks in office, Mr Morsi has taken a much stronger stance than many expected he would. The Scaf generals, in cooperation with the Supreme Constitutional Court, gutted the incoming civilian government by dissolving the Islamist-dominated parliament and demanding control of the drafting of a new constitution. Many in Egypt will welcome the new president's very public defiance given Scaf's manipulation of the political process.

But it is also regrettable that Mr Morsi begins by casting aside a verdict of the country's highest court, even if that verdict appeared to be deeply political. The decision is complicated by two main issues: first, Mr Morsi acknowledges the need for new parliamentary elections 60 days after a new constitution is approved - that implies a recognition that this parliament has been legally invalidated. Second, by defying the Constitutional Court before which he swore the oath of office, Mr Morsi casts doubt, technically at least, on his own legitimacy.

All of these issues will be worked out in due time. The Scaf-dominated transitional period had been criticised for failing to establish a process that ensures stability and rule of law. A civilian government is needed, and the military will quite probably see its powers diminished in the long term. But even if this interim parliament continues to convene, it is unlikely to accomplish much.

Egypt's tumultuous political season is far from over, with inevitable wrangling over the writing of the new constitution. Mr Morsi may have consolidated support among Muslim Brotherhood members, some of whom have criticised him for his reluctance to support a greater role for Sharia. But brinkmanship is a risky game in today's Egypt.

Mr Morsi has shown that he can stand, in public, against the generals. But that should not be at the expense of the rule of law, which should be the essence of the post-Mubarak Egypt.