CAIRO — Egypt’s president on Sunday ordered the Islamist-dominated parliament to reconvene in defiance of a military decree dissolving the legislature last month on the basis of a ruling by the country’s top court, the state news agency reported.
The surprise move by President Mohammed Morsi, himself an Islamist, will almost certainly lead to a clash with the powerful generals who formally handed power to him on June 30 after spending 16 months at the nation’s helm following the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in a popular uprising.
The move also reflects confusion in the roles and powers of Egypt’s governing institutions, with the constitution in force under Mubarak suspended after the uprising and no new one adopted.
Open confrontation between the two sides is certain to plunge the country into a new bout of political instability, adding to the many woes Egypt has experienced since Mubarak’s ouster by a popular uprising in 2011. Already, the country has been beset by a surge of crime, a faltering economy, a seemingly endless series of strikes, sit-ins and demonstrations.
In the first sign of an imminent crisis, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the formal name of the body grouping the nation’s top generals, held an “emergency meeting” shortly after Morsi’s decree was announced.
The official Middle East News Agency said the generals met to “review and discuss the consequences” of Morsi’s decision. The council has yet to publicly comment on the president’s decision.
The decree by Morsi, a longtime member of the Muslim Brotherhood group, also called for new parliamentary elections to be held within 60 days of the adoption of a new constitution for the country, which is not expected before late this year.
Last month, the then-ruling military generals dissolved the legislature when the Supreme Constitutional Court, the country’s highest tribunal, ruled that a third of its members had been elected illegally. The text of Morsi’s decree made no mention of the Supreme Constitutional Court, saying it was only revoking the military’s own decree to disband the legislature.
The military announced a “constitutional declaration” on June 16 that gave it legislative powers in the absence of parliament and stripped Morsi of much of his presidential authority. It also gave the generals control over the process of drafting a new constitution and immunity from any civilian oversight. It also gave itself control of the national budget.
Morsi came to power after narrowly defeating Mubarak’s last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, in a June 16-17 runoff. He was declared the winner on June 24. He symbolically took the oath of office five days later at Tahrir Square, birthplace of the revolt that toppled Mubarak’s regime on Feb. 11, 2001.
He took the formal oath the next day before the Supreme Constitutional Court and again during a later speech at Cairo University before hundreds of his supporters, including many of the dissolved legislature’s lawmakers.
A conservative Islamist, Morsi may have made his move inspired in large part by a desire to assert his authority in the face of the military, which has been the country’s de facto ruler since army officers seized power in a 1952 coup that toppled the monarchy. But Morsi’s defiance of a ruling by the country’s highest court could backfire, leading to charges that he has no respect for the judiciary.
Morsi’s decree came only hours after he met with a senior U.S. official who gave him a message from President Barack Obama that assured him of America’s commitment to a “new partnership” with Egypt.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns told reporters after the meeting that Egyptians could rely on U.S. support as they try to realize their aspirations.
“Egyptians know far better than we do that their aspirations are not yet fully realized, but they can count on America’s partnership on the complicated road ahead,” Burns said.
Washington, he said, was looking to see a democratically elected parliament in Egypt, a constitution that protects “universal rights” and an inclusive government that “embraces all of Egypt’s faiths and respects the rights of women and secular members of society.”
Burns is the highest ranking U.S. official to meet Morsi since he succeeded Hosni Mubarak, a close U.S. ally whose regime was toppled in a popular uprising last year.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s is also due to travel to Egypt later this month.
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