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In Egypt: Will dialogue resolve the conflict? (+video)

The standoff in Egypt between President Mohamed Mursi and the Supreme Constitutional Court over a ruling the court made last month is unlikely to end soon. The outcome of the conflict will undoubtedly have repercussions across the region.   

By Edmund Blair and Yasmine SalehReuters / July 10, 2012

An Egyptian supporter of President Mohamed Morsi carries his son holding a poster in Arabic that reads, 'our strength in our unity,' during a rally in front of Egypt's state council in Cairo, Tuesday, July 10. Egypt’s lower house of parliament briefly convened Tuesday, 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.

Amr Nabil/AP

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CAIRO

Egypt's Islamist-led parliament reconvened on Tuesday in an open challenge to the generals who dissolved it last month.

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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.

The supreme court swiftly ruled the newly elected, Islamist president had acted illegally in summoning the assembly, heightening a confrontation between the newly elected head of state and an establishment that once served Hosni Mubarak.

The legislature, dominated by President Mohamed Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood and allies, was dismissed by the army in line with a Supreme Constitutional Court ruling last month, days before Mursi's election. Mursi, the first civilian leader to lead Egypt in 60 years, ordered parliament's recall on Sunday.

IN PICTURES – Turmoil in Egypt 

In a sign the standoff would not end swiftly, Brotherhood officials were quick on Tuesday to question the court's right to rule against the president's decree and vowing to fight on.

"I invited you to convene in accordance with the decree issued by the president," said parliament speaker Saad al-Katatni, a Brotherhood man like Mursi, had told parliament.

But many liberal groups - heavily outnumbered by Islamists in parliament - boycotted Tuesday's session, saying Mursi's decree was a violation of the powers of the judiciary.

Then, just hours after lawmakers gathered, the supreme court issued a fresh order: "The court ruled to halt the president's decision to recall the parliament," Maher el-Beheiry, the court's chief justice, said.

Egypt's troubled transition to democracy is increasingly being fought in the courts, but that masks a much deeper conflict with an establishment rooted in six decades of military rule, half of that period under the leadership of Mubarak.

Senior Brotherhood official Mahmoud Ghozlan said the latest court ruling was linked to the army: "It is part of a power struggle between the military council and the president who represents the people and in which the military council is using the law and the judiciary to impose its will," he told Reuters.

In a war of attrition that may play out over years, Islamists long suppressed by Mubarak and his military predecessors are seeking to push generals out of politics and reform a wider establishment still filled with Mubarak-era officials.

Protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square, which had gathered in support of Mursi's decree earlier in the evening, swiftly turned to chants against the court ruling: "Void, void," they shouted.

The Brotherhood signalled it would not retreat.

Presidential legal adviser Mohamed Fouad Gadallah told Al-Ahram newspaper's website it was "not within the competences of the constitutional court" to assess the president's decree.

Brotherhood lawyer Abdel Moneim Abdel Maqsoud said his group respected the law: "But we also confirm we will continue to fight in all ways to defend what is right," he said.

A member of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, Ahmed Abu Baraka, called the court ruling "political thuggery".

'Dangerous Game'

Parliament was elected in six weeks of voting that ended in January, under a complex procedure which the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled on June 14 was unconstitutional, declaring the lower house void. The then-ruling military said that meant parliament had to be dissolved. But Mursi's backers say it should be allowed to work until early elections are held.

Mursi appeared to have stolen a march on the army, in their first skirmish. But the court ruling indicated the long campaign he will have to fight in courts, with both sides seeking to exploit deep political divisions in the nation of 82 million.

"It is a dangerous game," said Hassan Nafaa, a professor of political science who was an active opponent of Mubarak's rule and backed protests that ousted him. "I hope there will be some political solution to that crisis by direct negotiations between the president and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces."

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