Egypt's top court says ruling on parliament final

Associated Press
Workers clean inside the Egyptian parliament in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, July 9, 2012. 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. (AP Photo/Mohammed Asad)

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CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's highest court insisted Monday that its ruling to invalidate the Islamist-dominated parliament was final and binding, setting up a showdown with the country's newly elected president after he ordered lawmakers to return.

The announcement on state TV came a day after President Mohammed Morsi recalled the legislators, defying the powerful military's decision to dismiss parliament after the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that a third of its members had been elected illegally.

However, both sides appeared together Monday at a military graduation ceremony. Morsi sat between the head of the armed forces Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and Chief-of-Staff Sami Anan. The three sat grim faced for most of the ceremony, but Tantawi and Morsi exchanged a few words while seated on the reviewing stand.

The powerful military, meanwhile, delivered a thinly veiled warning to Morsi, saying it trusted that all state institutions will respect the constitutional declarations issued by the military during its 16 months in power since the fall of Hosni Mubarak.

The declarations are an interim measure after the constitution in effect under Mubarak's 29-year rule was suspended. A new and permanent constitution has yet to be drafted.

The last of the two declarations, issued June 17, gave the military far-reaching powers after handing over control to Morsi on June 30.

The statement said the military would continue to support "legitimacy, the constitution and the law" — language that means the generals would likely oppose take the judiciary's side in its tussle with Morsi over the fate of parliament.

The decision by the judges to stand by their June 14 ruling came in an emergency meeting even as the speaker of the dissolved legislature, Saad el-Katatni, called for parliament's more powerful lower chamber, the People's Assembly, to convene on Tuesday. The court's ruling did not cover parliament's upper chamber, known as the Shura Council, which is largely toothless.

Both Morsi and el-Katatni are longtime members of the Muslim Brotherhood, a fundamentalist group that has long been at odds with the military and, with other Islamists, holds the majority of parliamentary seats.

The move to restore parliament appeared to be an effort to exert Morsi's authority as president despite a series of moves by the military before his election aimed at limiting his powers.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces took over governing the country after Mubarak was ousted by a popular uprising last year and the ruling generals have come under criticism for being slow to hand over power to a civilian administration.

Morsi's executive order made no mention of the court's ruling, restricting itself to revoking the military's decree to dissolve the chamber. That appeared to be an attempt to avoid being seen as flouting a legal decision. Presidential spokesman Yasser Ali, speaking on Monday, said Morsi's decision did not violate the court's ruling, according to the Middle East News Agency.

In a separate report, the official Middle East News Agency said the court was due to look into several cases Tuesday questioning the legality of Morsi's decision to reconvene parliament.

The parliament building remained under police guard Monday, although scores of Morsi supporters gathered outside on the street. Many Islamist lawmakers have said they would attend Tuesday's session. Secular lawmakers, however, were leaning toward a boycott.

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

The Brotherhood, long repressed under secular regimes, has emerged as Egypt's most powerful post-Mubarak political force, 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. 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 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.

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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