What is the origin of the conflict?
Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court decreed last month on the eve of the country's first-ever freely contested presidential elections that the Islamist-dominated parliament was illegally elected. Almost immediately afterward, the then-ruling council of generals that took power from Mubarak moved to dissolve the legislature. The Islamists never accepted the court ruling, and their candidate, Morsi, won the election and was inaugurated as president on June 30.
Who are the opposing sides?
The Supreme Constitutional Court and the generals are Mubarak-era appointees. Morsi and nearly half the lawmakers of the dissolved parliament are members of the Muslim Brotherhood, an 84-year-old fundamentalist group. Many others in Egypt are in the middle — they are tired of political domination by the military, which has provided all of Egypt's four presidents since the overthrow of the monarchy some 60 years ago and is believed to want to keep its power and privileges. But they also distrust the Brotherhood, a highly disciplined and secretive movement whose ultimate goal is to create a more Islamic state.
What's at stake?
Morsi's power play will determine whether the generals' constitutional declaration will stand. If it stands, the military will have not just the powers of the legislature but also the authority to steer the drafting of the new constitution. In the bigger picture, this may be a test case that determines the role of the military in post-Mubarak Egypt — whether the country will follow the "Turkish model" of the 1980s and 1990s in which the army could block civilian governments from acting against its wishes — or whether the army will be subordinate to an elected president and legislature, Islamist or otherwise.
What happens now?
Morsi has the legitimacy from being the country's first-ever freely elected president, and Brotherhood supporters in the past have threatened a "second revolution" if the army tries to hold on to power. The military, on the other hand, has the top court on its side — and, of course, the ability to put tanks on the streets. Over the past 17 months, neither side has shown a willingness to push a crisis over the breaking point, however, and there are a number of ways that this conflict could be defused. But Egypt's post-Mubarak transition has been wildly unpredictable so far, and few analysts would venture with any confidence what will happen next.