Egypt’s Islamist-led parliament reconvened on Tuesday in an open challenge to the generals who dissolved the assembly last month, stirring up tensions with the military just 10 days into Mohammed Mursi’s presidency.
Parliament Speaker Saad al-Katatni, who like Mursi hails from the Muslim Brotherhood, which has the biggest bloc in parliament, opened the session with a speech aired live on state television.
Mursi has reinstated the assembly, which was dissolved following a ruling on June 14 by Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court.
“We are gathered today to review the court rulings, the ruling of the Supreme Constitutional Court,” which ordered the house invalid, Katatni said.
“I want to stress, we are not contradicting the ruling, but looking at a mechanism for the implementation of the ruling of the respected court. There is no other agenda today,” he added.
Egypt’s top court has rejected Mursi’s decree, setting him on a collision course with the military which says the rule of law must be respected.
“All the rulings and decisions of the Supreme Constitutional Court are final and not subject to appeal… and are binding for all state institutions,” the court said in a statement Monday.
People’s Assembly Secretary General Sami Mahran was quoted by the online edition of the state-run al-Ahram as telling parliamentary correspondents on Monday that the assembly’s secretariat had “sent invitations to 508 MPs, asking them to return on July 10 and resume attending sessions and performing their parliamentary duties.”
“MPs were allowed to enter the parliament building today [Monday] after they had been barred by security forces on June 14 following the Supreme Constitutional Court verdict that led to the dissolution of parliament’s lower house,” he said.
Mursi’s surprise decree, according to Mahran, has overturned an order by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), commanding security forces to bar MPs from entering the parliament building.
“Tantawi’s order is no longer valid,” Mahran was quoted as saying. “It expired today by virtue of Mursi’s decree in the latter’s capacity as president of the republic.
“Some MPs had declared on satellite television channels that they planned to resign from the assembly to object to Mursi’s order, but I have not received any written resignations,” he said.
Meanwhile, the SCAF withdrew most security forces from the parliament building on Sunday only hours after Mursi’s decree.
Representatives of several secular parties have said they would boycott Tuesday’s scheduled assembly meeting, according to TV reports.
Some independent MPs, such as journalist Mustapha Bakri and political activist Mohammed Abu Hamed, also said they had decided to resign and would not attend assembly meetings.
Other liberal and leftist deputies, by contrast, said they planned to attend Tuesday’s session.
“How can we go and attend in violation of a court ruling?” Imad Gad, a liberal lawmaker, told AP. “There must be respect for the law and for state institutions.”
Mursi also received harsh criticism from the country’s judiciary.
Ahmed al-Zind, the head of the powerful association of judges, gave Mursi a 36-hour ultimatum to rescind his decision and offer an apology to judges or face what he called “harsher” options.
The SCAF, which ruled Egypt after former president Hosni Mubarak was ousted last year, underlined the “importance of the constitution in light of the latest developments,” the official MENA news agency reported.
“The state will respect all aspects of the Constitutional Declaration,” stated the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces on Monday in reaction to Mursi’s decree.
Egypt’s daily al-Masry al-Youm cited a statement by SCAF as stressing the necessity of respecting the rule of law, the constitution and governmental institutions to maintain the integrity of the Egyptian state and show respect to the Egyptian people.
Islamists scored a crushing victory in three-stage parliamentary elections held from November last year, with the Muslim Brotherhood, Mursi’s former organization, heading the lower house.
But the military dissolved parliament last month after the top court made its controversial ruling a day before the second round of the presidential poll that saw Mursi become Egypt’s first democratically elected head of state.
“Mursi’s move sets the stage for a potentially very serious political and constitutional crisis,” Michael W. Hanna, an expert on Egypt from the New York-based Century Foundation, told The Associated Press.
The Muslim Brotherhood said it “will participate (Tuesday) in a million-man march in support of the president’s decision and reinstating parliament,” according to AFP.
The court’s move could spark a confrontation between Mursi, who stepped down from the Brotherhood when he was sworn in last month, and the SCAF as well as the judiciary.
The presidency insisted the decree “neither contradicts nor contravenes the ruling by the constitutional court.”
The confrontation prompted the United States on Monday to urge Egypt to respect “democratic principles.”
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is due in Egypt on July 14 to express U.S. support for the process of democratic transition in the U.S. ally state.
Washington lavishly supported Mubarak during his 30 years in power but analysts say U.S. officials will now have to work with multiple centers of power — including a military seen as restricting Mursi’s room for maneuver.
The constitutional court stressed that it was “not a part of any political conflict… but the limit of its sacred duty is the protection of the texts of the constitution.”
The SCAF also insisted that the texts of the constitution must be upheld.
It was not clear how the court’s ruling would be enforced.
Morsi’s decision caused a “political earthquake,” some media reported on Monday, and it also angered some secular parties which had slammed the Muslim Brotherhood’s monopolization of power since the start of the uprising.
After parliament was annulled last month, the SCAF issued a constitutional declaration granting the military sweeping powers, and in the absence of a parliament — in which nearly half of seats were won by the Brotherhood and another quarter by hardline Salafists — it assumed legislative power.
SCAF’s document, which rendered the presidency toothless, caused outrage among those calling for the military to return to barracks.
Instead of being sworn in before parliament, the 60-year-old Mursi took the oath on June 30 before the constitutional court.
The dispute over the fate of parliament has divided the nation just as Egyptians were looking forward to a semblance of stability after the tumult of the 17 months since the ouster of longtime authoritarian ruler Hosni Mubarak. Egypt has seen a dramatic surge in crime, deadly street protests, a faltering economy and seemingly non-stop strikes, sit-ins and demonstrations.