Showdown over power looms in Egypt after court ruling


EGYPT’S SUPREME constitutional court yesterday upheld a previous ruling that the election of the lower house of parliament was unconstitutional, challenging a decree issued on Sunday by President Mohamed Morsi to reconvene the people’s assembly.

The judges’ decision – which risks outright confrontation with the new president – came only hours after Mr Morsi unexpectedly ordered the country’s Islamist-led parliament to reconvene today. His decree in essence revoked a decision by the country’s most powerful generals on June 15th to dissolve the legislative body.

As expected, the court’s judges, appointed during the reign of ousted president Hosni Mubarak, stood by their initial ruling, issued on June 14th.

The day after that ruling, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which had assumed presidential power after Mubarak stepped down, dissolved the assembly and assumed legislative powers.

The court declared yesterday that its decision was “final and not subject to appeal” and insisted that it was no party to any power struggle being waged by political forces, and would not be used by one party against another.

Nevertheless, by taking this stand, the court risks confrontation with the president, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Brotherhood itself, and the ultraorthodox salafi Nour party, which together hold 70 per cent of seats in the body.

Observers in Cairo expect deputies to convene today but suggest that any legislation they adopt would be declared illegal by the court.

Mr Morsi tried to soften his challenge by saying the assembly would continue in office only until a new constitution is approved by referendum. Fresh elections for a lower house would then be held within 60 days.

Ahead of his election victory in June, the military council stripped away key executive powers it had promised to hand over to the new president. The council decreed it would appoint the armed forces chief and defence minister, approve the state budget, veto provisions in the draft constitution and even dissolve the constitutional commission if its work did not satisfy the generals who see themselves as the guarantor of Egypt’s “civil” or secular state.

Mr Morsi’s decree was sharply criticised by judges and lawyers.

Former presidential candidate Khaled Ali, a leftist labour organiser, accused the president of embroiling the court in a power struggle between the military council and the Brotherhood.

The April 6 Youth Movement, a vanguard of the uprising, supported Mr Morsi’s decree.

“This decision means that Egyptians truly elected their president in free and fair elections . . . the military council doesn’t represent us and should leave the political scene.”

Commentators expressed concern that Mr Morsi had at- tempted to tackle the military and the court on his own before appointing a vice-president, prime minister and cabinet which could have provided support and strengthened his legitimacy.

There is some suspicion among critics that his motive was to re- instate the assembly in order to secure control over the legislative as well as the executive branches before appointing Brotherhood figures to governmental positions. This would have violated his pledge to form a national unity government representing all the country’s political forces.

The Brotherhood has repeatedly broken promises since Mubarak’s fall, and has lost much public trust.

Despite signs of a showdown between the president and the military, Mr Morsi yesterday sat between military chiefs at a military graduation ceremony and pinned medals on young officers.