Egyptian parliament defies army

Legislators meet in open challenge to military

Egypt’s Islamist-led parliament reconvened on Tuesday after being summoned by new President Mohammed Morsi in an open challenge to the generals who dissolved it last month.

The assembly, dominated by Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and allies, was dismissed by the army in line with a court ruling issued days before Morsi’s election. Morsi took office on June 30 ago, the first civilian leader after six decades of military men in power, and recalled the parliament in a decree on Sunday.

Shortly before parliament speaker Saad al-Katatni opened the session, the United States urged all sides to engage in talks to safeguard the political transition in Egypt, a close US ally in the three decades under ousted Hosni Mubarak’s rule. “I invited you to convene in accordance with the decree issued by the president,” said Katatni who, like Mursi, hails from the Brotherhood. “I would like to confirm that the presidential decree does not violate the court order.”

The dispute is part of a broader power struggle which could take years to play out. It pits the Brotherhood, which was repressed by Mubarak and his military predecessors, against the generals seeking to keep their privileges and status, alongside a wider establishment still filled with Mubarak-era officials.

Alarmed

Liberal groups — heavily outnumbered by Islamists in parliament — are also alarmed. Many boycotted Tuesday’s session, saying Morsi’s decree defied the courts. A parliamentary official said attendance was about 70 per cent of the 508-seat lower house, roughly equal to the Islamist majority.

The liberal Free Egyptians party, which stayed away, called Morsi’s move “a blatant violation of the principle of separation of powers” and an attack on the judiciary.

Parliament was elected in a six-week vote that ended in January, under a complex procedure which the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled on June 14 was unconstitutional, declaring the lower house void.

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