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Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi issued a decree on Sunday calling the recently dissolved parliament back into session, thus defying the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and putting the Islamists and military on a collision course. He also called for new elections to be held 60 days after a new constitution is written. Despite opposition by some members of parliament to the recall, and warnings from the military and the courts, Morsi has chosen to gamble that the protestors in the street will be on his side and that the generals fear violence more than they fear a challenge to their power.
SCAF dissolved parliament last month after the Supreme Court ruled that a third of the parliamentary elections held earlier this year were invalid due to a technicality. The generals then seized all legislative power and emasculated the powers of the presidency while taking control of the process to write a new constitution by issuing a “constitutional declaration” that sidelined the Muslim Brotherhood.
Now Morsi is gambling that his efforts to reconstitute parliament — the major power center of the Islamists — won’t push the military into a violent confrontation with the Muslim Brothers and their supporters in the streets.
Not only is Morsi defying SCAF, he is also going against the Supreme Court who warned Morsi in a statement on Monday that its ruling invalidating parliament was “final” and binding. This leaves the president out on a very thin limb of legitimacy as even some members of parliament are urging him to back down and obey the law.
With the court’s unflinching support, the generals issued their own warning to Morsi saying in a statement that they would continue to support the “legitimacy, constitution and law” — language that suggests they might take action if the Islamists try to convene parliament.
However, no one appears ready, or anxious, for a confrontation. Late Monday evening, the military allowed members of parliament to enter the government center in advance of Tuesday’s meeting. And at a ceremony honoring military school graduates on Monday, President Morsi and SCAF leader Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, were seen chatting amiably together. Their camaraderie appeared to signal that some kind of deal may be in the works.
But the Supreme Court is set to rule on three challenges to Morsi’s decree also on Tuesday. An adverse decision may give Morsi a chance to back down — or an excuse for a military crackdown if Morsi continues to defy the court.
Morsi believes he is not defying the Supreme Court by calling parliament back into session because the judges only invalidated 1/3 of the elections. He insists that his decision is an “assertion of the popular will,” aimed at overturning the decision made by SCAF to dissolve parliament. “We affirm that there is no confrontation with the judiciary and the decision respects the verdict of the constitutional court,” said presidential aide Yasser Ali. It seems a thin reed on which to hang such a consequential gamble. This is especially true given the Supreme Court’s counter to Morsi’s move. The judges said in a statement, that its duty was “to prevent any aggression” against the constitution, and that its findings “are final … [and] binding on all state authorities.”
Many lawmakers agree with the court. “The executive decision to bring back parliament shows a disregard for the judicial authority and takes Egypt into a constitutional coma and a conflict between the institutions,” Nobel laureate and political dissident Mohamed ElBaradei wrote on Twitter.
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