Egypt: Who holds the power?
The Egyptian President, Mohammed Morsi, has ordered the military to maintain security and protect state institutions in the run-up to the referendum on the controversial draft constitution.
The announcement, which raised fears that Egypt was moving back towards military rule, came a day after Mr Morsi rescinded a decree giving himself sweeping new powers that had triggered opposition protests.
The dispute has raised questions about where power lies in the country.
When Mr Morsi took office on 30 June 2012 as Egypt's first democratically elected head of state, he appeared to have relatively little power.
Two weeks earlier, the then ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf) had issued an interim constitutional declaration amending the 30 March 2011 declaration promulgated following the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak. It restored all legislative powers to the Scaf until fresh elections were held for the dissolved lower house of parliament, the People's Assembly.
Following his inauguration, Mr Morsi moved swiftly to challenge the generals' power. On 12 August, he revoked the interim declaration issued by the Scaf in June and transferred the powers the generals had assumed to the presidency, including absolute legislative authority.
Mr Morsi also made a series of personnel changes in top military positions, including forcing the retirement of the head of the armed forces and defence minister, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, and legally reinserting the president as chairman of the Scaf.
The response to Mr Morsi's August decrees was by and large favourable, but there was widespread anger on 22 November when, with the constitutional assembly on the brink of collapse and protests over the slow pace of change, the president issued an interim constitutional declaration granting himself far-reaching powers.
Article 2 stated that all constitutional declarations, laws and decrees issued by Mr Morsi since he took office were "final and unchallengeable by any individual or body until a new constitution has been ratified and a new parliament has been elected".
Mr Morsi's declaration also stated that both the constituent assembly and the upper house of parliament, the Shura Council, could not be dissolved by the judiciary. This pre-empted an expected ruling by the Supreme Constitutional Court on the legitimacy of the constituent assembly, requested by liberal and secular groups who said it was unfairly dominated by Islamists and did not reflect Egyptian society.
Article 6 of the declaration granted the president the "power to take all necessary measures and procedures" against any potential threat to the revolution, national unity or national security.
Mr Morsi portrayed his declaration as an attempt to fulfil popular demands for justice and protect the transition to a constitutional democracy. But after four days of opposition protests, he agreed with judicial authorities to limit the scope of the decree.
His spokesman said most of the president's actions would remain subject to review by the courts, but preserve his power to protect the constituent assembly from being dissolved by the courts. The decree's language had not been altered, but Mr Morsi had promised its scope would be restricted to "acts of sovereignty", he added.
There was further public outrage on 30 November, when the constituent assembly approved a rushed version of the draft constitution - despite a boycott by secular parties and the Coptic Church - after the SCC announced that it would rule on whether the panel should be dissolved. Mr Mursi subsequently called a referendum for 15 December.
After a "national dialogue" meeting on 8 December, Mr Morsi moved to appease his opponents by rescinding most of the 22 November decree. Officials said the president had issued a new, more limited decree, giving immunity from judicial scrutiny only to his "constitutional declarations".
He did not, however, agree to the opposition's demand that he postpone the referendum. But he did signal a willingness to allow his opponents and allies to amend to amend the charter once the draft was approved.
On 9 December, the crisis deepened when the main opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front, rejected Mr Morsi's concession and called for the referendum to be delayed, while the president authorised the armed forces to keep order until the referendum is held. His decree empowered soldiers to arrest and try civilians in military courts.
The lower house of parliament, the People's Assembly, was tasked under the 30 March 2011 constitution declaration with determining the "public policy of the state, the general plan for economic and social development, and the public budget of the state". It was also supposed to oversee the work of the executive branch.
However, on 15 June 2012 the Scaf issued a decree dissolving the People's Assembly, a day after the Supreme Constitutional Court found the law that governed Egypt's first democratic elections in more than six decades unconstitutional. The court ruled that party members should not have been allowed to contest the one third of the seats designated for independents. The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) won several 235 seats in the People's Assembly by running candidates for individual seats, as did the ultraconservative Salafist Nour party.
On 17 June, the Scaf issued an interim constitutional declaration that gave it all legislative powers until a new parliament is elected. The decree also gave the generals power to form a new constituent assembly to draft the new constitution, replacing the 100-member panel which had previously been selected by parliament. The make-up of the constituent assembly had proved controversial, with liberals, youth activists, secularists and Christians complaining that it was dominated by Islamists and did not reflect the diversity of Egyptian society. A compromise was eventually reached but then parliament was dissolved. The generals, president, prime minister and judges can now also demand the revision of articles in the draft constitution.
Nine days after taking office, President Morsi unexpectedly issued his own decree ordering the People's Assembly to reconvene, challenging the Scaf's decision to dissolve it. Mr Morsi called on the generals to respect a popular will that was expressed through free elections. He said he was not ignoring the Supreme Constitutional Court because fresh elections would be held a month after the new constitution was approved, but its judges responded by insisting their decisions were "final and not subject to appeals". In the end Mr Morsi backed down.
The upper house, the Shura Council, was not affected by the Supreme Constitutional Court's ruling or the Scaf decree, as its elections were separate to those of the People's Assembly. The Shura Council is a consultative body that only gives its opinion on issues and draft laws suggested by the president and the government.
Supreme Constitutional Court
The Supreme Constitutional Court decides cases in which the constitutionality of a law or regulation is challenged. The judges on the court have been accused of being Mubarak appointees, though the current president, Maher al-Beheiry, was selected by the court from among the three most senior members, in line with a law amended by the Scaf last year.
Nathan Brown of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says the court's autonomy varied considerably under Mr Mubarak, and that its reputation and record for independent action has declined over the past decade. "What justices on the SCC tend to share, despite diverse orientations, is a strong sense of mission to the law and abstract constitutional principles," he adds. "In a sense, their attitude is analogous to that of the Scaf, though the comparison might offend some of them: senior judges, like senior generals, see themselves as guardians of the public interest and the interests of the state, and therefore as above politics, democratic mechanisms, and accountability."
President Morsi's constitutional declaration of November 2012 challenged the authority of the SCC, removing its power to rule on the legitimacy of any laws and decrees issued by him until a new constitution has been ratified and parliamentary elections held, and also stopping it dissolving the constituent assembly and Shura Council.
On 2 December, SCC judges attempted to meet to reveal their ruling on the constituent assembly, but Islamist supporters of the president prevented them doing so. The judges subsequently announced that they were suspending the court's sessions until they could work without "psychological and physical pressures".
Although President Morsi regained the executive and legislative powers claimed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf) in August 2012, the military is still the most powerful government entity. Many say it operates like a state within a state.
The three presidents who ruled Egypt before the revolution, along with their defence ministers, all had military backgrounds and bestowed unrivalled powers and benefits on the armed forces, particularly Hosni Mubarak.
The military has about 460,000 personnel and possesses vast land holdings and businesses. It plays a social role, providing employment and a sense of national identity to many Egyptians. But its pervasive influence has long been the subject of fierce criticism.
Estimates vary as to the size of military-owned industries - they account for around 8%-40% of Egypt's gross national product - but since their revenues are a state secret, along with the military's budget, it cannot be known for certain. The companies not only produce military hardware, but also products and services for the domestic consumer economy.
The military's influence extends far beyond its own institutions and businesses. The majority of provincial governors are retired army officers and many of the big civilian institutions and public sector corporations are run by former generals, including the three main land-developing authorities. The military is also involved in major infrastructure projects.
On 9 December, President Morsi issued a decree authorising the armed forces to protect national institutions and polling places. Analysts said it amounted to a form of martial law, because it would allow soldiers under the direction of the defence minister to arrest and try civilians under the military code of justice. The order said the military would "co-operate" with the police and return to barracks following the constitutional referendum.