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State of parliament remains in legal limbo amid Egypt power struggle

CAIRO--Egypt's parliament was hanging in legal limbo on Wednesday after a top court overruled a presidential decree reinstating the dissolved house, stepping up a power struggle between the president and the army.

“The battle for power centered around the judiciary,” read the headline of independent daily Al-Watan.

The Supreme Constitutional Court on Tuesday annulled a decree by newly elected President Mohamed Morsi reinstating the Islamist-led lower house of parliament, after the top court last month ruled it was invalid.

“The court ordered the freeze of the president's decree,” a judicial source said, adding that it “ordered that its previous ruling be implemented.”

Morsi had on Sunday ordered back parliament and invited it to convene. Taking its cue from the president, the People's Assembly met on Tuesday.

“We are gathered today to review the court rulings, the ruling of the Supreme Constitutional Court,” Speaker Saad al-Katatni said.

“I want to stress, we are not contradicting the ruling, but looking at a mechanism for the implementation of the ruling of the respected court. There is no other agenda today,” he added.

It was not immediately clear how the new ruling would be implemented.

“There have been no instructions to prevent MPs from entering the parliament building,” the lower house's secretariat said in a statement.

The origins of the battle for parliament lay in a constitutional declaration issued by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which ruled Egypt during its transition after President Hosni Mubarak was ousted last year.

The declaration, which acts as a temporary constitution until a new one is drafted, granted the military sweeping powers, including legislative control, rendering the presidential post little more than symbolic.

The SCAF consists of generals appointed by Mubarak, as was the head of the constitutional court which annulled parliament because it found that certain articles of the law governing its election invalid.

Critics said the decision was politically motivated.

“The constitutional court whose judges were appointed by Mubarak has cancelled the president's decree and restored the field marshal's decree,” wrote prominent writer and commentator Alaa al-Aswany referring to SCAF head Hussein Tantawi.

“The message is clear, the elected president is not to exercise power without the military,” he said.

But others saw in Morsi's decree a constitutional coup which showed little regard for the judiciary or democracy.

“The constitutional court returns the slap to the president,” wrote the liberal Al-Wafd, mouthpiece for the Wafd party whose MPs boycotted Tuesday's parliamentary session.

Thousands of protesters rallied Tuesday evening in Tahrir Square, hub of the 2011 revolution, in support of Morsi and chanting “Down with the military” and other slogans hostile to judges and allegedly anti-Islamist TV anchors.

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