CAIRO — Egypt’s Islamist-dominated parliament opened a new front in the country’s leadership showdowns Tuesday by meeting in defiance of orders that disbanded the chamber and brought President Mohammed Morsi in conflict with the powerful military and the highest court.
The session was brief, lasting just five minutes, and suggested that lawmakers sought more of a symbolic stance rather than a full-scale backlash against rulings that invalidated the chamber over apparent irregularities in Egypt’s first elections since the fall of Hosni Mubarak, who is serving a life term, 17 months ago.
But it further nudged Egypt deeper into a potential power struggle between Morsi and military chiefs, who have vowed to uphold a ruling by the Supreme Constitutional Court that led to parliament being dissolved last month.
Morsi countered with his own decree ordering the 508-seat chamber to reconvene. The constitutional court fired back Tuesday, ruling that Morsi’s decision had no legal grounding.
For the moment all sides appear to be moving with some caution in acknowledgment of Egypt’s volatile backdrop — the military with the power to clamp down on dissent but without widespread support on the streets where Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood is strong.
Security forces made no attempt to block lawmakers as they arrived at the parliament building in central Cairo. Later, thousands joined a pro-Morsi rally in Cairo’s Tahrir Square as riot police kept their distance.
News of the court’s ruling against Morsi was greeted with chants of “batel,” or illegitimate, by the crowds.
In the background, meanwhile, a special panel is working on Egypt’s post-Mubarak constitution and an all-out battle between the rising Brotherhood and the country’s old guard establishment could send the entire process into a tailspin.
The crisis atmosphere has grown steadily since Morsi issued an order Sunday to reconvene the legislature.
His executive order said it was revoking the military’s June 15 order to disband the chamber based on the previous ruling by the Supreme Constitutional Court.
The court said a third of the chamber’s members were elected illegally by allowing candidates from political parties to contest seats set aside for independent candidates.
A lower court also looking into complaints against Morsi’s order postponed its decision until July 17.
Morsi’s presidential decree also called for new parliamentary elections after a new constitution is adopted, which is not expected before the end of the year.
In effect it puts the current parliament in a sort of caretaker status, raising further speculation that Morsi could be buying time with the current defiance.