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Future constitution at heart of Egypt power-struggle

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The Egyptian parliament meets in Cairo on Tuesday, after being summoned by new President Mohamed Mursi in an open challenge to the generals who dissolved it last month.

CAIRO – Egypt's Islamist-dominated parliament opened a new front in the country's leadership showdown on Tuesday by meeting in defiance of orders that disbanded the chamber last month. The move brought new President Mohammed Morsi in direct conflict with both the powerful military and the highest court. 

The legislators – except for some liberal members of parliament who boycotted the session they considered unconstitutional – passed a decision to refer a previous move declaring 30 percent of parliament illegitimate to a court of appeals.


The session lasted just five minutes, suggesting that lawmakers sought to take more of a symbolic stand, rather than a full-scale backlash, against rulings that invalidated the chamber over apparent irregularities in Egypt's first elections since the fall of Hosni Mubarak 17 months ago. 

Symbolic or not, something very real is at the heart of the parliamentary tussle between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military: control of the body tasked with writing Egypt's new constitution. 

The so-called constituent assembly will determine the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches of government, and the degree to which Islamic law is applied. 

Mohammed Asad / AP

Egyptian lawmakers greet each other at a brief session of Parliament, the first since the country's high court ruled the chamber unconstitutional, in Cairo, Egypt on Tuesday.

In showdown with new president, Egypt's top court says ruling on parliament final

Constituent assemblies have a troubled history in Egypt. The first, which was two-thirds hard-line Islamist, was dissolved when its Christian, secularists, moderate Islamists, liberals and female members withdrew, saying that the body did not represent them.

The second constituent assembly, appointed just three weeks ago, has also been called biased, despite being half Islamist and half secular. But it has continued to meet, albeit fitfully.  

Because the parliament has been dissolved, the validity of the current constituent assembly is also in question and its status will be determined in court on September 4. Morsi has asked parliament to stay on until 60 days after a new constitution is drafted and put to a public referendum, at which time new parliamentary elections would be held. 

Both sides backed down from the brink Tuesday – the military removed most of the security from the parliament building and allowed members of the dissolved legislature to enter the building.

Mohammed Morsi officially became the president of Egypt on Saturday, as a new era of government takes shape. NBC's Kate Snow reports.

A crowd of around 200 people demonstrated their support for the newly elected president and the Brotherhood on a street in Cairo on Tuesday evening by chanting: "The people and the parliament are one hand" and "only the president has legitimacy."

As Morsi takes symbolic oath, many fear the 'Islamization of Egyptian society

Messages of support for Morsi's move also populated the Muslim Brotherhood's website.

"I support President Mursi's decision to return legislative power to the parliament rather than the military council," renowned writer Alaa al Aswany wrote.  "It is the first step on the right path."

Hamdi Kandil, journalist and commentator asked: "Do the people who reject the reconvening of the parliament want the military council to assume legislative power?"

But the political brinkmanship angered others. 

"It's not right to go against the judiciary. Maybe [Morsi] will decide to release [former President] Mubarak," taxi driver Haitham Mahmoud told NBC News. "Maybe he will decide to ban judges from supervising the polling stations in the next elections. The first three days of his presidency were all Morsi. After that it was all Mohamed Badie [the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood]."

Journalists Mona Eltahawy and Ethar El-Katatney provide updates on the developments in Egypt where newly elected president Mohammed Morsi has assumed power over the country.

Some feel that Morsi is working for Muslim Brotherhood – which counts for the support of around 5 million out of more than 80 million Egyptians – not the well-being of all his countrymen.

"I don’t like this. He doesn’t respect the law," Samia Hallen, a 45-year-old  business administration teacher, told NBC News. "I am not sure if it is his decision or that of the Muslim Brotherhood. People have a right to be angry with his decision."

Hallen pledged a backlash if Morsi continued on the same confrontational path.

"We will give him 100 days. If we don’t like his performance, we will go back to the street."

NBC News Ayman Mohyeldin, Joanna de Boer and Taha Belal contributed to this report. 

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