Parliament in legal limbo in Egypt power struggle

Agence France-Presse
Top court overruled a presidential decree reinstating the dissolved house, intensifying a power struggle between the president and the army.

CAIRO, Egypt – Egypt’s parliament was hanging in legal limbo on Wednesday after the top court overruled a presidential decree reinstating the dissolved house, intensifying a power struggle between the president and the army.

“The battle for power centred on the judiciary,” read the headline of independent daily Al-Watan.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Constitutional Court annuled a decree by newly elected President Mohamed Morsi reinstating the Islamist-led lower house of parliament, after ruling last month that it was was invalid.

“The court ordered the freeze of the president’s decree,” a judicial source said, adding that it “ordered that its previous ruling be implemented.”

On Sunday, Morsi had ordered parliament back and invited it to convene. Taking its cue from the president, the People’s Assembly met on Tuesday.

“We are gathered today to review the court rulings, the ruling of the Supreme Constitutional Court,” 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.

It was not immediately clear how the new ruling would be implemented.

“There have been no instructions to prevent MPs from entering the parliament building,” the lower house’s secretariat said in a statement.

A presidential statement on Wednesday insisted that Morsi respected the court’s ruling, saying his decree to reconvene parliament was “aimed at respecting judicial rulings and the constitutional court’s decision.”

Presidential aides were not immediately available to clarify the statement.

According to Morsi’s decree, new parliamentary elections are to be held after a constituent assembly picked by the legislature finishes a constitution.

But the assembly’s fate is in doubt, with the administrative court deciding on Wednesday to look into complaints on the panel’s legality next Tuesday rather than in September as had been scheduled, the official MENA news agency reportd.

Should the court declare the parliament appointed assembly illegal, the military will appoint a new one, as stipulated in its interim constitution.

The origins of the battle for parliament lay in the constitutional declaration issued by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which ruled Egypt during its transition after president Hosni Mubarak was ousted last year.

The declaration, which acts as a temporary constitution until a new one is drafted, granted the military sweeping powers, including legislative control, and rendering the presidential post little more than symbolic.

The SCAF consists of generals appointed by Mubarak, as was the head of the constitutional court which annuled parliament because it found that certain articles of the law governing its election invalid.

Critics said the decision was politically motivated.

“The constitutional court whose judges were appointed by Mubarak has cancelled the president’s decree and restored the field marshal’s decree,” wrote prominent commentator Alaa al-Aswany, referring to SCAF head Hussein Tantawi.

“The message is clear, the elected president is not to exercise power without the military,” he said.

But others saw in Morsi’s decree a constitutional coup which showed little regard for the judiciary or democracy.

“The constitutional court returns the slap to the president,” wrote the liberal Al-Wafd, mouthpiece for the Wafd party, whose MPs boycotted Tuesday’s parliamentary session.

Lawyers representing Morsi criticised the court’s latest decision and said Tuesday’s ruling was a political move that would further complicate the crisis.

“This ruling is null and void,” lawyer Abdel Moneim Abdel Maqsud told reporters, while another member of the team, Mamduh Ismail, called it a “political decision.”

Thousands of protesters rallied Tuesday evening in Tahrir Square, hub of the 2011 revolution, in support of Morsi and chanting “Down with the military” and other slogans hostile to judges and allegedly anti-Islamist TV anchors.

Opponents of Morsi’s decree earlier protested outside the presidential palace.

Speaker Katatni said parliament had referred the case invalidating the house to the Court of Cassation.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is due to visit Cairo on Saturday, urged all parties to engage in dialogue.

“We urge that there be intensive dialogue among all of the stakeholders in order to ensure that there is a clear path for them to be following,” the chief US diplomat said after talks 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. – Agence France-Presse

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