Egyptian parliament reconvenes

Tue, Jul 10, 2012, 01:00

Egypt's Islamist-led parliament reconvened today after being summoned by new President Mohamed Mursi in an open challenge to the generals who dissolved it last month.

The assembly, dominated by Mr Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood and allies, was dismissed by the army in line with a court ruling issued days before his election.

Mr Mursi took office on June 30th, 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 Mr Katatni who, like Mr 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.

Liberal groups - heavily outnumbered by Islamists in parliament - are also alarmed. Many boycotted today's session,
saying Mr Mursi'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 Mr Mursi'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. The then-ruling military said that meant parliament had to be dissolved, but Mr Mursi's backers say it should be allowed to work until early elections are held.

For now, Mr Mursi with his election mandate may have an early advantage in the first skirmish with the army. But he cannot claim victory in a fight being contested in courts and with both sides seeking to exploit deep political divisions in the nation of 82 million.

"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," said Mr Nafaa, a professor of political science who was an active
opponent of Mubarak's rule and backed protests that ousted him.

Aside from rival statements issued by the Brotherhood and the army, there has been no public sign of a clash. Mr Mursi and Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, who ruled the country in the interim after Mubarak resigned, have appeared relaxed together at public events before and since the president's decree.