Parliamentary Speaker Saad El-Katatni has called on the People’s Assembly, the lower house of Egypt’s parliament, to convene at noon on Tuesday.
The call by El-Katatni, who until recently served as secretary-general of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), came only hours after President Mohamed Morsi – former FJP chairman – issued a decree reinstating the assembly, which was dissolved following a 14 June ruling by Egypt's High Constitutional Court (HCC).
People's Assembly secretary-general Sami Mahran told parliamentary correspondents on Monday that the assembly's secretariat had "sent invitations to 508 MPs, asking them to return on 10 July and resume attending sessions and performing their parliamentary duties."
Mahran continued: "MPs were allowed to enter the parliament building today after they had been barred by security forces on 14 June following the HCC verdict that led to the dissolution of parliament's lower house."
According to Mahran, Morsi’s surprise decree on Sunday effectively overturned a 14 June order by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, head of Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), commanding security forces to bar MPs from entering the parliament building.
"Tantawi’s order is no longer valid," said Mahran. "It expired today by virtue of Morsi’s decree in the latter's capacity as president of the republic."
Mahran went on to say that the assembly’s secretariat had not received any formal resignations from MPs as a result of the move. "Some MPs had declared on satellite television channels that they planned to resign from the assembly to object to Morsi's order, but I have not received any written resignations,” he said.
Mahran declined to provide a timeframe for the assembly's upcoming activities.
"The assembly can remain in session until a new constitution is written or new parliamentary elections are held; or it could continue uninterrupted throughout the year," he said. In the early 1990s, Mahran recalled, "the assembly’s first session continued uninterrupted for twelve consecutive months," even though the official lifetime for parliamentary sessions had been set at eight months.
Mahran went on to say that he was not sure what issues would be on the agenda at the assembly’s scheduled Tuesday meeting. “There might be a discussion of the HCC's 14 June ruling that invalidated the elections law, or the assembly might plunge right into business by discussing everyday issues that affect the lives of ordinary Egyptians," he said.
In the meantime, the SCAF withdrew most security forces from the parliament building on Sunday only hours after Morsi’s decree. The interior ministry's Central Security Forces are mandated with guarding the building. The abrupt withdrawal of security forces has led some observers to speculate that Morsi’s decree had been issued in consultation with the SCAF.
According to some well-informed sources, the assembly is expected to discuss a report prepared by its legislative and constitutional affairs committee on the HCC's seminal 14 June ruling. The report, prepared by committee chairman Mahmoud El-Khodeiri, argues that the HCC ruling "only invalidated one third of the seats in the assembly."
El-Khodeiri's report goes on to state that the HCC verdict had "asserted that party-affiliated candidates were allowed to contest seats specifically allocated for independent candidates." The report goes on to recommend that "party-affiliated candidates who won seats as independents before rejoining the ranks of their respective parties should be disqualified and their seats subject to re-election."
As for those who ran as independents and remained politically independent after winning elections, the report contends, "they should retain their seats and should not face re-election."
The committee’s report runs counter to the HCC ruling, which states: "The assembly as a whole must be dissolved because the election law by which it was elected discriminated against independent candidates and was biased in favour of party-affiliated candidates – especially Islamist ones."
There have been indications that representatives of several secular parties have decided to boycott Tuesday's scheduled assembly meeting. MPs for the Wafd Party (38), the Egyptian Democratic Party (17), the Free Egyptians (7), the Revolution Continues (7) and the Tagammu Party (3) all said they had received orders from their respective party leaderships not to attend assembly meetings.
Representatives of offshoot parties from ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s now-defunct National Democratic Party (NDP) – such as the Egyptian Citizen Party and the Horreya Party – similarly announced plans to boycott. The number of these NDP diehards is estimated at 15 members of the People's Assembly.
Some independent deputies, such as journalist Mostafa Bakri and political activist Mohamed Abu-Hamed, also said they had decided to resign and would not attend assembly meetings.
Other liberal and leftist deputies, by contrast, said they planned to attend Tuesday's session. These included Anwar El-Sadat, chairman of the liberal-leaning Reform and Development Party (which is allied with the FJP); Mohamed El-Sawy, Civilisation Party MP and chairman of parliament’s culture committee; and Al-Ahram political analyst Wahid Abdel-Meguid.
Leftist deputies – including Tagammu Party firebrand El-Badri Farghali, the Karama Party’s Saad Abboud, and Al-Ahram analyst Mohamed El-Said Idris – also declared their intention to attend Tuesday's session and voiced support for Morsi’s decree.
Several deputies, meanwhile, such as Bakri and the Social Popular Alliance Party's Abul-Ezz El-Hariri, attributed the surprise decree to a recent meeting between Morsi and US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns.
"The Americans pressed the SCAF hard to give all powers to Morsi as a condition for resuming US military aid to Egypt," Bakri contended. "Morsi’s order came just a few days after US ambassador to Egypt Ann Patterson had declared... that the US wanted to see the new president granted all executive powers.”
El-Hariri, for his part, believes that Morsi exploited both Burns' visit to Cairo and the fact that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton plans to visit Egypt on 14 July to embarrass the military establishment.
"If the SCAF moved to overturn Morsi’s decree, Tantawi would be accused by the Americans of trying to impose a military dictatorship and stage a coup against democracy and an elected head of state," said El-Hariri. He went on to posit that the US was "doing its best" to push Egypt into a state of chaos and help an "extremist religious group" – in reference to the Muslim Brotherhood – turn the country into a "religious state."