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Egyptian parliament reconvenes, defying court and military warnings

July 10, 2012 |  6:18 am

CAIRO -- Egypt’s dissolved parliament defied a court order and reconvened Tuesday, escalating the power struggle between the newly elected Islamist president and the military over the political future of a nation still tangled in the legacy of toppled leader Hosni Mubarak.

The Islamist-dominated parliament’s brief session was a symbolic victory for President Mohamed Morsi, who ordered its reinstatement following a high court ruling that disbanded the chamber over electoral problems. The legitimacy of parliament is in question but its return fits Morsi’s strategy to regain presidential powers the military has stripped from him.

Parliament speaker Saad Katatni was careful not to incite the generals or the Supreme Constitutional Court. He offered a compromise: Parliament may consider dissolving one-third of its seats and holding new elections for them. When the court disbanded the legislature last month it said 30% of the seats, which were designated for independent candidates, were improperly elected.

“The parliament knows its rights and will not interfere with the law,” said Katatni, who adjourned the meeting within minutes. “We are meeting today in accordance with the court’s decision in order to seek ways to implement the ruling.”

It is uncertain whether the military, which recently granted itself all legislative and many executive powers, will accept Katatni’s logic. The speaker also said parliament would appeal the high court ruling, despite a statement by the court on Monday that its decisions cannot be overturned.

The generals warned Morsi and the parliament not to defy the court order. But the army appeared to want to avoid confrontation. Soldiers did not block lawmakers from entering the parliament building, as they had done in the past. The scenario appeared to fit the perplexing pattern of the nation’s politics -- all rules apply yet everything is negotiable.

The larger battle is framed by the decades-long struggle between the Muslim Brotherhood and the secular state. The Brotherhood controls nearly 50% of parliament, and with Morsi, who recently resigned from the group’s leadership, Islamists see a landmark moment to advance their agenda. The generals, many of them appointed by Mubarak, have been maneuvering to stanch such ambitions in a political standoff that may play out for years.

Immediately before Morsi was declared winner of a runoff election less than two weeks ago, the army curtailed presidential powers over the military, intelligence services and the national budget. Morsi -- through the recalling of parliament and street protests -- has attempted to pressure the generals. Both sides are also seeking to advance their interests by influencing the drafting of a new constitution.


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-- Jeffrey Fleishman

Photo: Egypt’s parliament reconvenes Tuesday in defiance of a court order. Credit: Associated Press