Egypt's parliament speaker calls new session

Associated Press
FILE - In this Monday, Jan. 23, 2012 file photo, members of Egypt's parliament confer before the opening session in Cairo, Egypt. Egypt's president on Sunday, July 8, 2012 ordered the country's Islamist-dominated parliament to reconvene in defiance of a military decree dissolving the legislature last month following a court ruling that a third of its members were illegally elected, the state news agency reported. (AP Photo/Asmaa Waguih,Pool, File)
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CAIRO (AP) — The speaker of Egypt's Islamist-dominated parliament called Monday for the legislature to meet this week, raising the stakes in a tense standoff with the powerful military which backed a court ruling to dissolve the chamber.

Egypt's MENA state news agency said speaker Saad el-Katatni has called for parliament to meet Tuesday, two days after Islamist President Mohammed Morsi issued a surprise decree ordering the legislature to reconvene in defiance of the country's highest court to dissolve it. The council of generals who ruled Egypt at the time backed the Supreme Constitutional Court's verdict with a decree to disband the chamber.

The decision by Morsi appeared to be an effort to exert his authority as president and a direct challenge to the generals who ruled the country for 16 months following the ouster of longtime ruler Hosni Mubark. They handed over power to Morsi less than two weeks ago but continue to hold unrivaled powers in the country.

The dispute threatens to plunge the country into a new bout of instability, perhaps violence, 17 months after Mubarak's ouster in a popular uprising.

The parliament building remained under police guard Monday, although scores of Morsi supporters had gathered outside on the street. Many Islamist lawmakers, who combined hold more than 70 percent of the legislature's seats, have said they would attend Tuesday's session. Non-Islamist lawmakers, however, were leaning toward a boycott.

"How can we go and attend in violation of a court ruling?" said Imad Gad, a secular lawmaker. "There must be respect for the law and for state institutions."

Both Morsi and el-Katatni are longtime members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the powerful fundamentalist group that has long been at odds with the military. The group has emerged as Egypt's most powerful political force since last year's uprising, winning nearly half the seats in parliament and putting their candidate in the president's office.

Morsi's order left Egypt's political and judicial actors scrambling.

The Supreme Constitutional Court, meanwhile, was meeting Monday to discuss the decree. The country's top generals, who make up the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, held an "emergency meeting" soon after the president's decision was announced Sunday, but issued no statement.

Morsi, a conservative Islamist, met Monday with the country's two top generals — former military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and Chief-of-Staff Sami Anan — during a military graduation ceremony. The three sat grim faced for most of the ceremony, with Tantawi and Morsi seen exchanging a few words while seated on the reviewing stand.

In his decree Sunday, Morsi also called for new parliamentary elections within 60 days of the adoption of a new constitution, which is not expected before late this year.

The military announced a "constitutional declaration" last month giving itself legislative powers in the absence of parliament and stripping Morsi of much of his presidential authority. In a rush of decrees shortly before formally handing over power to Morsi on June 30, the generals also took control over the process of drafting a new constitution and the national budget.

Morsi came to power after narrowly defeating Mubarak's last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, in a runoff last month. Declared the winner 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 at Cairo University before hundreds of his supporters, including many of the dissolved legislature's lawmakers. In his inauguration speeches Morsi hinted at his displeasure over parliament's dissolution and his own diminished powers, pointedly seating el-Katatni, the speaker of parliament, in the front row during the Cairo University ceremony.

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