Stage set for showdown over Egypt's parliament

Morsy takes on military over parliament

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Story highlights

  • The likelihood of a full-blown, open confrontation is low, says one analyst
  • SCAF defends its decision to dissolve parliament, saying it acted on a court ruling
  • The Muslim Brotherhood calls for a million-man protest Tuesday
  • Morsy's order recalling lawmakers puts him at odds with Egypt's generals

Egypt's highest court said Monday its ruling that dissolved parliament was "final and binding," despite the efforts of the nation's newly elected president to override the mandate and call lawmakers back into session.

In a move that may set the stage for a showdown, President Mohamed Morsy announced Sunday he was overriding the military edict and recalling lawmakers. The decision is in defiance of the generals who have run the country since the 2011 revolution that ousted longtime strongman Hosni Mubarak.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Egypt's military rulers, defended its decision to dissolve parliament Monday, saying it had only acted on behalf of the court ruling.

"We are confident that all state institutions will respect what was issued in all constitutional declarations," SCAF said in a statement that was read by an anchor on state TV.

Parliament was set to convene at 10 a.m. Tuesday, according to Essam El Erian, deputy head of the Freedom and Justice Party and a member of parliament.

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However, the Higher Constitutional Court declared after a Monday meeting that its "ruling to dissolve parliament is final and binding." The court threw out the parliamentary vote in June, prompting Egypt's military to assume legislative power and dissolve parliament.

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Still, the likelihood of a full-blown, open confrontation between Morsy and the country's military rulers is low, said Monique El-Faizy, a project leader at the World Policy Institute.

Both sides have too much to lose and neither can can risk pushing the other too far, she said. The showdown will be of the Cold War variety, she predicted.

"I think it's the delicate balancing act that we're going to see for a while," said El-Faizy. "This is all new. Everybody's finding their way."

Showing no obvious signs of strain, Morsy appeared alongside the head of the SCAF, Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, at a military graduation ceremony in Cairo on Monday.

Twenty-five cases have been filed by individuals protesting Morsy's decision to reinstate parliament, the court said. On Tuesday, attorneys will be brought before the administrative court, which will decide on the cases. The court is the only one that can overturn a presidential decree.

"I expect the court to overrule the presidential decision tomorrow," said Aly Hassan, a judicial consultant affiliated with the Justice Ministry.

One case was also filed against Morsy in administrative court in the city of Mahmoudia, calling for his ouster since he failed to follow a constitutional court order under the law, Hassan said.

The court ruled that the constitutional articles regulating parliamentary elections were invalid.

Morsy's recalling of parliament is likely to please his backers in the Muslim Brotherhood, which won the largest share of seats in parliament in elections this year. However, it also puts him at odds with the military and with constitutional experts.

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Meanwhile, dozens of riot police and barriers surrounded the parliamentary building, but guards there allowed lawmakers into the building Monday, Egypt's state-run Nile TV reported.

The Muslim Brotherhood has called for a million-man protest Tuesday in support of Morsy's decision, said Ahmed Sobea, spokesman for the Freedom and Justice Party.

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His comments come after Egyptian state news agency MENA reported that parliament Speaker Mohamed Al Katatney called for lawmakers to hold a public meeting Tuesday.

On Sunday, in a statement issued to CNN, Al Katatney said he welcomed Morsy's decision and that lawmakers would convene "within the coming hours."

Hassan told CNN on Sunday that the order "will be met with objections from constitutional legal experts, and it may be the first test of the relations between Morsy and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces since Morsy took office.

"Restoring parliament would take power away from generals. The Supreme Council asserted legislative authority in June, after Egypt's Constitutional Court ruled that a third of lawmakers had been illegally elected and invalidated the election.

Presidential spokesman Yasser Ali said that under Sunday's order, new parliamentary elections would be held two months after voters approve a new constitution. The Supreme Council announced in June that it expected a new constitution to be written within three months -- a decision the leaders of Egypt's revolution protested extensively, calling it a limitation on presidential powers.

Hassan said that as president, Morsy "has the authority to take any decision, regardless if it's right or wrong." But he added: "Overturning the constitutional court ruling and reinstating parliament is against the constitution, especially that there is no appeal on such court rulings."

Retired Gen. Sameh Seif Al Yazal, the head of the Republican Center for Political Research in Cairo, called Morsy's order "an insult to the hegemony of the judicial system in Egypt."

"I think this decision puts the judicial system in a crisis, and it's a message to the constitutional court," he said. "The president is a role model. How are the Egyptian people going to respect any court rulings after that?"

Morsy, Egypt's first freely elected leader, assumed office on June 30. He took the helm of a deeply divided nation that is economically strapped and lacks a working government. He quickly indicated that Egypt's legislative power would return to civilian hands -- and while praising the generals, he said their job was "to protect the boundaries and security of the country."

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