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Defiant Egypt parliament meets amid legal crisis

July 10, 2012


Egyptian Parliament Speaker Saad el-Katani presides over a brief session of Parliament, the first since the country's high court ruled the chamber unconstitutional, in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, July 10, 2012. Egypt's Islamist-dominated parliament convened Tuesday in defiance of a ruling by the country's highest court and swiftly voted to seek a legal opinion on the decision that invalidated the chamber over apparent election irregularities. -AP Photo

CAIRO: Egypt's dissolved parliament convened on Tuesday in defiance of the powerful military and the judiciary as a constitutional crisis raged over a presidential decree reinstating the Islamist-led assembly.

“We are gathered today to review the court rulings, the ruling of the Supreme Constitutional Court,” which ordered the house invalid, speaker Saad al-Katatni said.

“I want to stress, we are not contradicting the ruling, but looking at a mechanism for the implementation of the ruling of the respected court. There is no other agenda today,” he added.

Last month, the Supreme Constitutional Court said certain articles in the law governing the parliamentary elections were invalid, annulling the house.

The military, which ruled Egypt after Hosni Mubarak was ousted in last year's popular uprising, then dissolved the house and took legislative control using a document granting the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) sweeping powers.

But on Sunday, just eight days after taking office, President Mohamed Morsi, a former member of the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, ordered the lower house to reconvene.

His move highlighted the power struggle between the president and the SCAF, after the constitutional declaration issued by the military basically defanged the post of president.

Morsi's decree was hailed by those who want to see the army return to barracks, but it was criticised by those who fear an Islamist monopolisation of power as a “constitutional coup.”

Katatni said parliament had referred the case invalidating the house to the Court of Cassation, while the Supreme Constitutional Court was looking into cases put forward to annul Morsi's decree.

Hundreds of people gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square, hub of the revolution, to chant their support for Morsi's decision and chant “Down with the military,” while those opposing the decree protested outside the presidential palace. The tension prompted US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to call for negotiations.

“We urge that there be intensive dialogue among all of the stakeholders in order to ensure that there is clear path for them to be following,” she said at a news conference in Vietnam.

The Egyptian people should “get what they protested for and what they voted for, which is a fully elected government making the decisions for the country going forward,” she added.

Clinton is due in Egypt on July 14 to express American support for the process of democratic transition there. Islamist parties, including the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, which Morsi headed before becoming president, and Salafist parties attended Tuesday's parliamentary session.

But several MPs from liberal and leftist parties boycotted the gathering. Katatni insisted during a brief opening statement aired live on television that the house “respects the law and judicial rulings.”On Monday, the Supreme Constitutional Court rejected Morsi's decree, saying that all of its rulings were binding.

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

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.” Several groups and politicians had criticised the court's June ruling as politically motivated.

The SCAF backed the court on Monday, saying the rule of law must be upheld. It underlined the “importance of the constitution in light of the latest developments,” the official MENA news agency reported.

Islamists scored a crushing victory in three-stage parliamentary elections held from November, with the Muslim Brotherhood heading the lower house.

The dissolution of parliament took place just a day before the second round of presidential elections that saw Morsi become Egypt's first democratically chosen head of state.

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

The presidency insisted on Monday that Morsi's decree “neither contradicts nor contravenes the ruling by the constitutional court.”

The ruling does not need to be implemented immediately, said presidential spokesman Yasser Ali, arguing that the decision “takes into account the higher interest of the state and the people.”

Washington lavishly supported Mubarak during his 30 years in power, but analysts say US officials will now have to work with multiple centres of power -- including a military seen as restricting Morsi's room for manoeuvre.