Egypt’s Islamist-led parliament today “opened a new front” in the country’s intensifying power struggle by assembling (above) in defiance of a court order that dissolved the chamber, pitting President Mohammed Morsi against the military and judiciary.
“Of course this legal wrangling is in reality a struggle over power,” said Khalil al-Anani, an expert on Islamist movements at the UK’s Durham University. “But Morsi has acted to solidify his presidency and he has done it with a sense of confidence and assertiveness. This was the first test of the relationship between the new president and the military.”
Liberal politicians and activists criticized both the Brotherhood and the military for naked power grabs, reports suggest:
Many boycotted Tuesday’s session, saying Mursi’s decree defied the courts. A parliamentary official said attendance was about 70 percent of the 508-seat lower house, roughly equal to the Islamist majority. The liberal Free Egyptians party, which stayed away, called Mursi’s move “a blatant violation of the principle of separation of powers” and an attack on the judiciary.
“By launching his coup against the constitutional court only days after he swore to uphold the constitution and the laws before it, Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood have shown their true colors,” the Social Democratic Party said.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is now “a state above the state,” said liberal MP and analyst Amr Hamzawy. He also condemned Morsi’s decree to reconvene the parliament as a retrograde step that diminished the office of the presidency.
“The president’s action was the first in an inevitable struggle for power that is likely to consume the Arab world’s most populous country for many months if not years, as elected institutions and the army face off against each other,” writes the FT’s Roula Khalaf.
As a newly-elected president, Morsi may have the advantage of legitimacy over the generals, observers suggest.
“I have the impression that the elected president has the upper hand,” said political analyst Hassan Nafaa. “It is a dangerous game. I hope there will be some political solution to that crisis by direct negotiations between the president and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.”
The parliament met only briefly in what some observers suggest was an unintentionally revealing symbolic gesture.
“Though the Brotherhood has often sought to portray its expanding political power as part of a revolutionary effort to usher in democratic, civilian rule,” reports suggest, “its retreat from the Parliament floor after a five-minute session suggests that the organization may have reached the limits of its popular mandate to confront the military.”
Morsi, “has to be very careful about civilianizing politics in a way that doesn’t look like he’s propelling the Muslim Brotherhood into power,” said Joshua Stacher, an Egypt expert and professor of political science at Kent State University. “Morsi hasn’t been able to do that yet.”
While couched in largely constitutional terms, few observers or protagonists doubt the fundamentally political nature of the Islamist-military conflict.
“The Constitutional Court’s ruling is political par excellence,” said Abdel Moneim Abdel Maqsoud, the head of the Brotherhood’s legal team. “There is now a state of political enmity between the Constitutional Court and [the Brotherhood].”
By revoking the council’s decision to dissolve an elected parliament – based on a ruling by the constitutional court, a remnant of the old regime, that found the electoral law flawed – Mr Morsi directly challenged the generals’ authority to interpret laws and dictate the terms of his own job.
The military council had clipped his wings just before he took over, assuming some of the president’s powers and the legislative authority of parliament. It is too early to tell whether the president’s move will succeed in asserting his authority. Mr Morsi may yet be forced into a humiliating retreat.
Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood organisation also appears careful not to overplay its hand. The president’s aides have made clear that he is not challenging the constitutional court’s decision on the electoral law – or the need for new elections – but wants to find a way of implementing the ruling without leaving the generals in control of legislative powers.
“What’s going on is a naked struggle for power but what is odd is that every step is carefully cloaked in legal terms,” says Nathan Brown, a constitutional expert at George Washington University.
The Project on Middle East Democracy, a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy, adds:
Parliament Meets, Court to Review Appeals to Morsi Decree
Egypt’s lower house of parliament met today following a presidential decree over the weekend reinstating the body which was dissolved after a ruling by the country’s High Constitutional Court (HCC). The court issued a statement affirming that its rulings are binding and told Morsi he had 36 hours to withdraw his decision. Meanwhile, the administrative court adjourned until July 17 when it will consider appeals launched against president Morsi’s decision to reinstate parliament. The Constitutional Court’s review of the appeals is underway. Speaker of parliament, Saad al-Katatny ended the session today after defending the President’s right to order parliament to reconvene saying it did not contradict the court’s ruling but rather the decision by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to disband parliament. He stressed that the parliament understands its rights and responsibilities and will refer the HCC decision to the court of appeals. The lower house will not hold any sessions until the appeal court gives its verdict Katatny said. Meanwhile, SCAF issued a statement calling for the state to respect the rule of law and denied accusations that the military council had struck a deal with the president over the parliament issue. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters that Egypt should engage in dialog between all sides to resolve the issue and safeguard the transition to civilian rule. Mohamed ElBaradei called for a meeting between the president, parliament, and the military to reach a political and legal solution. Outside the court, minor clashes between supporters and opponents of Morsi’s decision to reinstate parliament broke out and the Muslim Brotherhood called for a million-strong march in support of the president’s decree. A number of liberal and leftist parties boycotted the parliamentary session today.
Sources “Admin. court adjourns appeals on parliament, constitutional declaration and constituent assembly,” Aswat Masriya (English) 7/10/2012. “Egypt People’s Assemby refers own fate back to the Judiciary,” Ahram Online (English) 7/10/2012. “People’s Assembly refers dissolution verdict to committee,” Egypt Independent (English) 7/10/2012. “SCAF: The state will respect the Constitutional Declaration,” Egypt Independent (English) 7/9/2012. “Egypt court says rulings binding after president decree,” Egypt Independent (English) 7/10/2012. “Brotherhood calls for million-man march to back Morsi’s decree,” Egypt Independent (English) 7/9/2012. “Egypt’s leftist, liberal MPs to boycott Tuesday’s parliament session,” Aswat Masriya (English) 7/9/2012. “Judiciary gives Mursi 36 hours to withdraw decision reinstating parliament,” Aswat Masriya (English) 7/9/2012. “Clashes between supporters and opponents of the return of lower house,” ElYom7 (Arabic) 7/10/2012. “Clinton urges dialogue in Egypt to safeguard transition,” Aswat Masriya (English) 7/10/2012. “ElBaradei asks president, army and parliament to convene,” Aswat Masriya (English) 7/10/2012. “Supreme Constitutional Court to rule on today’s reconvening of parliament,” Al Dostour Al Asly (Arabic) 7/10/2012.