Egypt’s Morsi, military leaders head for confrontation over re-opening parliament


Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi looks on as he meets with US deputy secretary of State William Burns (not seen) in Cairo on July 8, 2012. (Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images)

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and his allies refused to back down Monday from their call to reinstate the disbanded Islamist-dominated parliament, ignoring a veiled threat from the military and a rebuke from the country’s highest court and ordering lawmakers to take their seats Tuesday at noon.

The deadline marked the second day of escalating tensions in the standoff between the newly elected Morsi, a member of the long-banned Muslim Brotherhood, and the vestiges of the Hosni Mubarak regime that control Egypt’s military and judiciary.

“It’s quiet for now, but wait until tomorrow,” said a kiosk vendor outside parliament on the evening before the expected showdown.

No extra troops were in evidence near the facility. The streets were quiet except for the routine sounds of horns, and police guarded the entrance to parliament.

About a week into his term, Morsi is challenging the abrupt dismissal of the first post-revolution parliament by military generals, who had been ruling the country until he took office, and the Supreme Constitutional Court.


Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi (The Washington Post/The Washington Post)

As Egypt struggles to find its footing as the Arab world’s newest — and largest — democracy, Morsi’s aggressive opening moves make it more likely that public confrontations between the two sides will follow. The dispute comes just days before an expected weekend visit by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

In Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the center of last year’s popular uprising, Morsi supporters on Monday waved signs cheering his actions. And some Brotherhood members called for a march in support of the reinstatement of parliament.

There was a modicum of ceremonial civility Monday, when Morsi appeared at a military graduation ceremony as the guest of Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, head of the country’s military council. The two exchanged a few words and a few laughs as they watched the marching cadets.

Outside, both sides dug in on the standoff that began with Morsi’s decree Sunday annulling the Constitutional Court’s ruling and ordering the return of parliament.

The court warned Monday that its June 14 ruling against the legislature was “final and binding,” according to state television reports. The court’s head, Maher el-Beheiry, also told the Reuters news agency that the court would immediately begin reviewing Morsi’s attempt to reinstate parliament.

The military council went into a closed emergency session Sunday. On Monday, it issued a statement read on state television warning Morsi to adhere to the court’s ruling and respect the constitution. The statement left little doubt that Morsi’s decree had caught the generals off-guard and that the move was not part of a negotiated power-sharing deal.

Meanwhile, other participants in Egypt’s fractured politics warily staked out positions on what could be the next defining dispute in the country’s struggles to emerge from decades of dictatorship under Mubarak, who was ousted last year.

Brotherhood supporters, and some members of the youth coalition that helped sparked last year’s uprising, cheered Morsi, saying he was standing up for a freely and fairly elected legislature.

But several rivals who had run in the recent presidential election deplored Morsi’s action as a power grab. Even some Mubarak opponents, as well as liberals and secularists, criticized Morsi’s actions as an end run that threatened the country’s judicial integrity.

“The executive decision to overrule the Constitutional Court is turning Egypt from a government of law into a government of men,” read a tweet from Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel-winning former diplomat who briefly considered a run for the presidency last year.

Ernesto Londoño and Hassan Elnaggar contributed to this report.

Steve Hendrix came to The Post more than ten years ago from the world of magazine freelancing and has written for just about every page of the paper: Travel, Style, the Magazine, Book World, Foreign, National and, most recently, the Metro section’s Enterprise Team.
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