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Egypt parliament meets in defiance of court

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The speaker of Egypt's parliament presided over a brief session of parliament on Tuesday [AP]Egypt's parliament has met in an open challenge to the generals who dissolved the assembly last month, escalating tensions with the military just 10 days into Mohamed Morsi's presidency.

Parliament speaker Saad al-Katatni, who like Morsi hails from the Muslim Brotherhood, which has the biggest bloc in parliament, opened the session with a speech aired live on state television on Tuesday.

"We are gathered today to review the court rulings, the ruling of the Supreme Constitutional Court," which ordered the court 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.

The lawmakers then approved by a show of hand Katatni's proposal that the house seek legal advice from a high appeals court on how to implement the supreme court's ruling. He then adjourned the session, which lasted about five minutes.

He said he would advise lawmakers in due course of the date of the next session.

The Supreme Constitutional Court rebuked Morsi on Monday, meeting in a special session to assert that the president had to abide the court's decision, which found the manner of the parliamentary election unconstitutional.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), in a statement on Monday, said that its order to dissolve parliament in June "represented the implementation" of the court's decision.

Katatni and Morsi are both members of the Muslim Brotherhood, which won nearly half of the parliament, and the ongoing political conflict between the military and Egypt's elected officials is seen by many liberal and secular politicians as a battle to determine the Brotherhood's post-revolution political powers.

Morsi, through his spokesman Yasser Ali, insisted his decision to reconvene the 508-seat chamber was an "assertion of the popular will".

Morsi's presidential decree also called for new parliamentary elections after a new constitution is adopted, something that is not expected before the end of the year - in effect according legitimacy to a legislature the country's highest court ruled to be invalid.

Analysts believe that the military council and state institutions still packed with old regime loyalists have attempted to constrain the Brotherhood in the months since their parliamentary gains.

In its ruling last month, the Supreme Court determined that a third of parliament's members were illegally elected under a law that allowed candidates from political parties to compete for seats that had been set aside for independents.

Days after the court dissolved parliament, and just minutes after polls closed in the presidential election, the military issued a unilateral package of constitutional amendments stripping the president of his role as commander-in-chief, asserting autonomy over their budget and affairs, and assuming the power to legislate until a new parliament could be elected.

New constitution

Although the constituent assembly tasked with drawing up Egypt's new constitution is currently functioning, after being selected by the dissolved parliament, the SCAF also gave itself the power to choose a new assembly if the current one runs into any problems.

The amendments were seen as a pre-emptive attempt to limit Morsi's powers, should he win.

For the past month, the Brotherhood has argued that the court's decision was wrong and that the military, at the time the executive authority in the country, had no legal right to order parliament dissolved.

"The SCAF did not hand over power totally to the new president... and this is the point," Yussuf Auf, a judge in the Giza governorate and constitutional scholar, said.

Auf said that Egypt's judiciary had suffered a "huge negative effect" from ruling on numerous political cases since the 2011 revolt.

"One way to solve the problem is to have the supplementary constitutional declaration amended and give the legislative powers to the [parliament] again," he said.

"If I have to choose between the legitimacy of the SCAF or the president, I have to choose the legitimacy of the president."

In its Monday statement, the military said its constitutional declaration "came as a result of the political, legal and constitutional circumstances that the country was facing".

It added that the declaration "ensures the continuity of state institutions and the [military council] until a new constitution is drafted". The military said it was "confident" that all state institutions will respect constitutional declarations.


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