Egypt's parliament convenes despite dissolution

A supporter of President Mohammed Mursi wears and carries an Egyptian flag in front of the parliament building in Cairo A Mursi supporter waves an Egyptian flag in front of the parliament building in Cairo

Egypt's parliament has briefly convened, despite the ruling military council ordering it to be dissolved.

The country's new President, Mohammed Mursi, had ordered the assembly to meet in defiance of the ruling.

Earlier, the council said the decision to dissolve parliament must be upheld. The military closed parliament last month after a supreme court ruling.

Its latest intervention is seen by some as a challenge and warning to Mr Mursi, who was sworn in only a week ago.

It could be the first confrontation between the military and the president since Mr Mursi's election.

Speaker Saad al-Katatni said that by holding the assembly, MPs were not contradicting the dissolution ruling "but looking at a mechanism for the implementation of the ruling of the respected court. There is no other agenda today".

Analysis

Egypt's political crisis has moved from fist fight, to a rather more subtle game of chess. By reconvening parliament, President Mursi went directly against the orders of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which dissolved it.

So it is an assertion of his new power as president. But it could also end up being a fairly meaningless gesture. Any laws parliament now passes are likely to be challenged, and quite probably struck down, by the courts.

So eventually it may suit everyone for parliament to be dissolved and new elections to be held, after a new constitution has been agreed.

In the meantime, both the president and the military will want to show that they are in charge. The difference this time is that it looks as if the struggle will be played out mostly in the courtrooms and the backrooms of politics, rather than on the streets. For that, at least, Egyptians may be grateful.

The MPs approved Mr Katatni's proposal that the parliament seek legal advice from a high appeals court on how to implement the supreme court's ruling. He then adjourned the session.

Some lawyers also believe that parliament has now effectively handed its power to the president, taking it away from the military, says the BBC's Jon Leyne in Cairo.

He says this will be for the lawyers to argue about, with the first in a slew of court verdicts over the latest developments expected later on Tuesday.

The demonstration that was due to be held in Tahrir Square in defiance of the military's decision does not seem to have gone ahead, our correspondent adds.

The Muslim Brotherhood - Mr Mursi's power base, which has the biggest bloc of seats in parliament - had said it would participate on Tuesday "in a million-man march in support of the president's decision and reinstating parliament".

The military council said it was confident "all state institutions" would respect the law and constitution.

It is unclear how events will unfold as the situation - with the new president elected without a new constitution being drafted, and the parliament theoretically dissolved - is unprecedented, analysts say.

'Popular will'

On Monday, the Supreme Constitutional Court had rejected a decree issued by Mr Mursi the day before to reconvene the Islamist-dominated parliament.

The court said its 14 June ruling that the law governing Egypt's first democratic elections in more than six decades was unconstitutional because party members were allowed to contest seats in the lower house reserved for independents was binding and final.

Egypt: Who holds the power?

Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf)

The interim constitutional declaration of 17 June gives the Scaf complete legislative power until a new parliament is elected and gives it a strong voice in the constitution-writing process. The decree makes the military free from civilian oversight, and gives the Scaf control of military affairs and the budget.

President

On paper, the president has authority over administrative and domestic affairs. He will appoint the cabinet - with the exception of the defence minister, which is reserved for the head of the Scaf. The president chairs the re-established National Defence Council, but the military has a majority.

Parliament

The Scaf dissolved the lower house, the People's Assembly, after the Supreme Constitutional Court found the election law unconstitutional. New elections will take place a month after the new constitution is approved, effectively suspending parliament until then. It is unclear whether the upper house, the Shura Council, is affected.

Supreme Constitutional Court

The court decides cases in which the constitutionality of a law or regulation is challenged. Its current president, Farouq Sultan, who is set to retire this summer, was appointed by Hosni Mubarak. His successor was selected by the court.

As the court had not itself ordered the dissolution of parliament, Mr Mursi was not directly challenging a court order, our correspondent says.

No mention was made of the court's ruling in the decree. And presidential spokesman Yasir Ali argued Mr Mursi had been quite legitimate in suspending the dissolution until new parliamentary elections took place within 60 days of a new constitution being ratified.

Despite the apparent tensions, the president and Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, who heads Scaf, appeared together at a military cadet graduation ceremony on Monday.

The president's order has not, however, been welcomed by political rivals.

Former presidential candidate, Abdul Moneim Aboul Fotouh, said Mr Mursi's decision was a subtle way out of that confrontation.

"Respect for the popular will by restoring the elected parliament and respect for the judiciary by holding parliamentary elections is the way out of this crisis," he wrote on Twitter.

Liberal MP Mohammed Abu Hamed urged Scaf to challenge what he called "this constitutional coup".

Mr Mursi won the country's first free presidential election last month, and army chiefs formally handed over power on 30 June.

Before Mr Mursi's inauguration, the military granted itself sweeping powers.

The commanders' constitutional declaration stripped the president of any authority over the military, gave military chiefs legislative powers, and the power to veto the new constitution, which has yet to be drafted.

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