Sara Khorshid

President Mohamed Mursi’s decision to reconvene the lower chamber of Egypt’s parliament, in defiance of a decision by the generals to dissolve it, brings to the fore once again an issue that has been much contested since the start of the revolution: legitimacy and the rule of law, as opposed to revolutionary legitimacy.

On the grounds of revolutionary legitimacy, the revolutionaries of January 25 insisted that the then president Hosni Mubarak step down, despite warnings from his aides that his ouster would violate the constitution and create a legal vacuum. In a country where “the revolution continues” till its goals are met - as Mursi stated in his first speech after being elected president - revolutionary legitimacy replaces long established laws and legal institutions. Mursi’s decision would have been justifiable if revolutionary legitimacy was clearly his frame of reference. But the problem with the Muslim Brotherhood’s decisions is that the movement has been selectively jumping between constitutional and revolutionary legitimacy for the past year and a half - depending, apparently, on which path would facilitate its bid for power. The Brotherhood often opposed protests and sit-ins by other revolutionary forces by referring to the constitution: “The country should move on from revolution to stability, from revolutionary legitimacy to constitutional popular legitimacy.”

In this way, the Brotherhood has lost much of its credibility. And it has added to the legal chaos and uncertainty that started with the twisted “transition roadmap” designed and sponsored by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf) and supported by the Brotherhood.

The roadmap entailed that the parliament and president be elected first, after which a constitution be drafted to determine the relationship between the two and allocate their powers. Back when this roadmap was drawn up, the Brotherhood vigorously attacked the “constitution-first” voices, on the grounds that a popular referendum approved the 10 articles which set out that path (then Scaf added 53 more articles and imposed them with no referendum).

But suddenly the Islamist movement is adopting the “constitution-first” principle that it long opposed. Mursi’s decree implies that new parliamentary elections be held after the country has approved by referendum the constitution, which is currently being drafted by a Brotherhood-dominated constituent assembly.

Some pro-Mursi commentators argue that the supreme court’s judges are Mubarak appointees biased towards the toppled president and his regime. It’s true. The court’s rulings have little credibility, and are expected to be tailored to the interests of the pre-revolution regime and the Mubarak-appointed members of Scaf.

So it is hard to believe the so-called liberals among Egypt’s elite who claim that they oppose Mursi’s decision because they respect the supreme court and the rule of law. Many of those liberals constantly attack the Muslim Brotherhood in the name of democracy and liberalism yet prefer the generals to elected civil politicians. Supporting the junta and agreeing that it be given immunity against civil accountability is nothing short of an outright contradiction of democracy and liberalism.

But with neither the Brotherhood nor the liberals entirely credible in their claims, it is unfair for Mursi’s supporters to immediately accuse anyone who is wary of the president’s recent political manoeuvres of being anti-revolution and pro-Scaf.

To some, Mursi appears to be a hero, challenging the generals’ constitutional declaration issued last month giving their military council legislative powers. But the declaration also makes the armed forces a state within a state, because it grants Scaf only the right to decide on issues relating to the armed forces, including their budget. So far, Mursi has not touched that part.

For now, Egyptians should continue to give him the benefit of the doubt, at least till the 100-day mark he set for himself in the presidential election campaign. If he defies Scaf and backs the revolution’s goals - including the ones that are not related to the Muslim Brotherhood’s quest for power - and if he supports democratic civil rule and civil supervision above the military, only then can he be reckoned as being truly revolutionary.

But if he only helps the Brotherhood acquire more power - it now has executive and legislative powers, as well as considerable control over the drafting of the constitution - then he and his movement will be seen as almost a duplicate of Mubarak’s infamous National Democratic party.                         –Guardian