Cairo, (AFP) – Egypt’s parliament was hanging in legal limbo on Wednesday after a top court overruled a presidential decree reinstating the dissolved house, stepping up a power struggle between the president and the army.
“The battle for power centred around the judiciary,” read the headline of independent daily Al-Watan.
The Supreme Constitutional Court on Tuesday annuled a decree by newly-elected President Mohamed Mursi reinstating the Islamist-led lower house of parliament, after the top court last month ruled it was invalid.
“The court ordered the freeze of the president’s decree,” a judicial source said, adding that it “ordered that its previous ruling be implemented.”
Mursi had on Sunday ordered back parliament and invited it to convene. Taking its cue from the president, the People’s Assembly met on Tuesday.
“We are gathered today to review the court rulings, the ruling of the Supreme Constitutional Court,” speaker Saad al-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 origins of the battle for parliament lay in a constitutional declaration issued by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which ruled Egypt during its transition after president Hosni Mubarak was ousted last year.
The declaration, which acts as a temporary constitution until a new charter is drafted, granted the military sweeping powers, including legislative control, rendering the presidential post little more than symbolic.
The SCAF consists of generals appointed by Mubarak, as was the head of the constitutional court which annuled parliament because it found that certain articles of the law governing its election invalid.
Critics said the decision was politically motivated.
“The constitutional court whose judges were appointed by Mubarak has cancelled the president’s decree and restored the field marshal’s decree,” wrote prominent writer and commentator Alaa al-Aswany referring to SCAF head Hussein Tantawi.
“The message is clear, the elected president is not to exercise power without the military,” he said.
But others saw in Mursi’s decree a constitutional coup which showed little regard for the judiciary or democracy.
“The constitutional court returns the slap to the president,” wrote the liberal Al-Wafd, mouthpiece for the Wafd party whose MPs boycotted Tuesday’s parliamentary session.
Lawyers representing Mursi criticised the court’s latest decision and said Tuesday’s ruling was a political move that would further complicate the crisis.
“This ruling is null and void,” lawyer Abdel Moneim Abdel Maqsud told reporters, while another member of the team, Mamduh Ismail, called it a “political decision.”
Thousands of protesters rallied Tuesday evening in Tahrir Square, hub of the 2011 revolution, in support of Mursi and chanting “Down with the military” and other slogans hostile to judges and allegedly anti-Islamist TV anchors.
Opponents of Mursi’s decree earlier protested outside the presidential palace.
The decree was hailed by those who want to see the army return to barracks, but it was criticised by those who fear an Islamist monopolisation of power as a “constitutional coup.”
Speaker Katatni said parliament had referred the case invalidating the house to the Court of Cassation.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is due to visit Cairo on Saturday, urged all parties to engage in dialogue.
“We urge that there be intensive dialogue among all of the stakeholders in order to ensure that there is a clear path for them to be following,” the chief US diplomat said after talks in Vietnam.
The Egyptian people should “get what they protested for and what they voted for, which is a fully elected government making the decisions for the country going forward,” she added.