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Egyptian president and judiciary in tug of war

July 10, 2012

CAIRO, July 9: Egypt’s top court on Monday rejected a decree by President Mohamed Morsi to reinstate the parliament it ruled invalid, setting the president on a collision course with the judiciary and the military that enforced the ruling.

“All the rulings and decisions of the Supreme Constitutional Court are final and not subject to appeal... and are binding for all state institutions,” the court said in a statement.

This came after Mr Morsi decided to order back the Islamist-led lower house of parliament a month after the court found certain articles in the law on parliamentary elections to be invalid, annulling the house.

The powerful Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf), which was running the country after Hosni Mubarak was ousted by a popular uprising last year, had dissolved parliament based on the ruling.

The court’s move could spark a confrontation between Mr Morsi, who stepped down from the Brotherhood when he was sworn in last month, and Scaf as well as the judiciary.

However, the court stressed that it was “not a part of any political conflict... but the limit of its sacred duty is the protection of the texts of the constitution.”

Its statement came hours after parliament speaker Saad al Katatni invited the lower house to convene at 2pm (1200 GMT) on Tuesday, following the presidential decision.

It was not clear how the court’s ruling would be enforced.

Mr Morsi’s decree also stipulates the organisation of new parliamentary elections two months after the approval by referendum of the country’s new constitution and the adoption of a new law regulating parliament.

The presidential decision has also heightened tensions with the military, although both Mr Morsi and Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi who heads Scaf appeared together at a military cadet graduation ceremony on Monday.

President Morsi’s decision caused a “political earthquake,” some media reported on Monday, sparking a flurry of meetings, including by Scaf and the Constitutional Court.

“Morsi says to SCAF: Checkmate,” read the headline of the independent daily Al Watan, as Al Tahrir, another daily, declared “Morsi defeats SCAF.” His move also angered some secular parties, which had slammed the Muslim Brotherhood’s monopolisation of power since the start of the uprising.

“In any decent and democratic country, a president cannot disrespect the judiciary,” said Rifaat al Said, the head of the leftist Al Tagammu party.

“Whether Morsi likes it or not, he must respect the judiciary’s decisions,” he told state television.

Mr Said said a march to parliament would be organised later on Monday, and stressed that “several parties will boycott parliament’s sessions.”

The military dissolved parliament last month after Egypt’s top court made its controversial ruling, a day before the second round of the presidential poll that saw Mr Morsi become Egypt’s first democratically elected head of state.

The powerful Muslim Brotherhood at the time described the move as a “soft coup,” accusing the military of seeking to monopolise power and demanding a referendum.

The Supreme Constitutional Court had said certain articles in the law governing parliamentary elections were invalid, annulling the Islamist-led house.

It also ruled as unconstitutional the political isolation law, which sought to bar senior members of Mr Mubarak’s regime and top members of his now-dissolved party from running for public office for 10 years.

Mr Morsi beat Mr Mubarak’s last premier Ahmed Shafiq in the presidential election.

Scaf issued a constitutional declaration granting the military sweeping powers, and in the absence of a parliament – in which nearly half of the seats were won by the Muslim Brotherhood and another quarter by hardline Salafists – it assumed legislative power.

Scaf’s document, which rendered the presidency toothless, caused outrage among those calling for the military to return to their barracks.

Instead of being sworn in before parliament, the 60-year-old Morsi took the oath on June 30 before the constitutional court.

US President Barack Obama will meet Mr Morsi at the UN General Assembly in New York in September, an official in Washington said on Sunday.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is to visit Cairo on July 14, has congratulated Mr Morsi on his election but cautioned that his victory was just a first step towards true democracy.

Despite Mr Morsi’s Islamist background, the confirmation of his election brought relief to the Obama administration, which feared that the military would not accept his victory and provoke new chaos in Egypt.

Mr Morsi put Washington further at ease by pledging to be a leader for all Egypt, where around 10 per cent of the population is Christian, and to honour Cairo’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel.—AFP