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June 20, 2012

Brotherhood vs. military on Parliament

Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party Secretary-General Saad el-Katatni and speaker of Egyptian Parliament's lower chamber. (UPI/Ahmed Gomaa)

CAIRO (UPI) -- Muslim Brotherhood lawmakers vowed to show up at Egypt's military-protected Parliament Tuesday in defiance of a court ruling dissolving the legislature.

The brotherhood said Egypt's Supreme Court -- 18 judges, appointed mostly during the Mubarak regime -- had no authority to dissolve the Parliament after negating Egypt's complex parliamentary elections, and the brotherhood said the military had no authority to prohibit duly elected members of Parliament from entering the building.

The court ruled the law governing the elections contained illegal provisions as well as legal provisions that were not followed.

That ruling came a day after the military-appointed Justice Minister declared martial law, giving the military sweeping powers to enforce law and order, and three days before the military issued a decree amending Egypt's Constitution to give the country's top generals many executive powers previously reserved for the president.

The ruling generals -- who for months had promised to cede authority to a new civilian government by the end of this month -- issued the decree Sunday, 20 minutes after polls closed in the presidential vote.

In Washington, Pentagon spokesman George Little said, "We're deeply concerned about new amendments to the constitution declaration, including the timing of their announcements as polls were closing for the presidential election."

The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party said it would convene Parliament anyway Tuesday -- a day previously scheduled for a session -- and called on Egyptians to take to the streets to challenge the military's recent moves to consolidate power.

Freedom and Justice Party Secretary-General Saad el-Katatni, speaker of the Parliament's lower chamber, said Parliament would convene at Tahrir Square if the armed soldiers and other security forces surrounding the Parliament building -- who have been ordered to keep all lawmakers from entering -- refused to let the members of Parliament go in, the British newspaper The Guardian reported.

Freedom and Justice Party presidential candidate Mohamed Morsi and rival ex-Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, the ruling military's favored candidate, both claimed victory in the weekend vote.

Shafiq's campaign insisted Shafiq -- a former air force general who Hosni Mubarak appointed as prime minister 12 days before stepping down as president in the face of massive protests last year -- was the true winner.

It alleged the brotherhood had "terrorized" voters, but offered no evidence to support the allegation.

The ballots were counted in front of TV cameras and party observers in polling places nationwide to prevent fraud. Independent observers concluded Morsi won by about 4 percentage points, or about a million votes.

State-run and unofficial media reported Morsi had a decisive lead, with 99 percent of the vote counted.

The military's Presidential Election Commission said official results would likely be released by the end of the week.

As for the new martial law, the dissolving of Parliament and the constitutional decree, "Everyone is blowing this out of proportion," Maj. Gen. Mohamed el-Assar, a member of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, said in a news conference Monday.

"No one will return Egypt to the past, no matter who wins the presidency," he said.

Egypt's incoming president, Assar said, will still retain power to appoint ministers and veto legislation, despite the legislative authority the military has assumed.

"We want a little more trust in us," he said. "Stop the criticisms that we are a state within a state. Please. Stop."

"Trust the armed forces," Assar and Gen. Mandouh Shahin said several times during the news conference, The New York Times reported.

"We don't want power," both said repeatedly, citing the presidential election as proof.

Despite seizing Parliament, they promised a big celebration at the end of the month to mark their formal handover to the new president -- a handover The Guardian said many Egyptians now viewed as largely meaningless.

The generals said they regretted shutting down Parliament, calling its formation one of their proudest achievements.

But they said they were forced to close it down because of the court's ruling.

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