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Morsi-military standoff: How big a blow to Egypt? (+video)

While Egypt’s transition has been on uncertain legal footing from the beginning, the confrontation between President Morsi and the military and judiciary could upend Egypt's legal order.

Egypt's Islamist-dominated parliament convened briefly Tuesday, in defiance of a court ruling dissolving the body. Later on, the high court ruled against the presidential decree that recalled lawmakers.
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Egypt’s lower house of parliament briefly convened today, defying a court ruling and a military order that had declared the body dissolved and deepening the legal ambiguity of the power struggle between Egypt’s new president and the military. In a session that lasted just minutes, the members of parliament referred the case to the country’s highest court of appeals. 

The parliament’s meeting was a response to an executive order from President Mohamed Morsi, who two days ago canceled a directive by the then-ruling military council to dissolve the parliament. Hours after today's parliament session, the Supreme Constitutional Court retaliated, releasing a statement rejecting Mr. Morsi's order to reconvene the parliament. Morsi's spokesman, in turn, declared the court's statement without jurisdiction and therefore null.

While Mr. Morsi has taken care to frame his move as a challenge to the military, and not an attack on the judiciary, many perceive it as an affront to the rule of law. Others see it as a justifiable move by a popularly elected president in the face of a politicized court.

The military’s order was based on a ruling by the Supreme Constitutional Court, which found that Egypt’s parliament should be dissolved because party members should not have been allowed to contest seats reserved for independents in elections. 

While Egypt’s transition has at times been on uncertain legal footing from the beginning, the current confrontation pushes it to new depths.

Morsi’s move to reconvene the parliament leaves Egypt’s legal order “in a complete state of disarray,” says Nathan Brown, a professor at George Washington University. “You've got a parliament that will be meeting now, and might even be passing laws; you've got courts that will probably refuse to enforce those laws. You've got a military that claims it has a legislative role, and a president who says the basis for that legislative role, the supplemental constitutional declaration, he doesn’t acknowledge … you’ve got a completely chaotic situation.”

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