Egypt's Morsi challenges military council by recalling parliament

President Mohammed Morsi has certainly thrown down the guantlet to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) by ignoring their order last month to dissolve parliament and calling the legislative body back into session.


Quoted by the state news agency on Monday, Saad al-Katatni, who like President Mohamed Mursi hails from the long-suppressed Muslim Brotherhood, said the lower house would sit from noon (0600 EDT) on Tuesday, overturning a court judgment and military order issued a month ago, before Mursi's election.

The move, heralded by a decree issued by Mursi on Sunday, barely a week after he took office, threatens Egypt with fresh political uncertainty likely to take a toll on a fragile economy and dash the hopes of many desperate for a period of calm after 17 turbulent months since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak.

However, in a signal that relations have far from broken down between Mursi and the army, the president and the head of the military council appeared together, looking relaxed and in conversation, at a televised event on Monday morning.

The military council which had run Egypt since Mubarak was toppled by popular protests in February 2011 handed powers to Mursi on June 30, but it had sought to trim his authority shortly before he took office following a June 16-17 vote. It had dissolved parliament and taken legislative power for itself.

Yet in a move that seemed to take even the generals by surprise, Mursi said on Sunday he was recalling parliament and would hold an election once a constitution was in place, meaning the parliament would not serve a full four-year term.

The row is part of a broader power struggle which could take years to play out, pitting long suppressed Islamists against generals whose fellow officers ran Egypt for six decades and an establishment still packed with Mubarak-era officials.

Morsi is set to visit Washington on Wednesday which means he must feel fairly secure in his position. But this business with parliament is a side show. The real power struggle will occur when the civilian government tries to break up the military's stranglehold on the economy and tell them how much will be budgeted for defense. Those two parts of the power puzzle will be resisted by the military, perhaps even with guns.

Morsi is not likely to make that challenge until the civilians are firmly established.