A surprise decision by Egypt's newly-inaugurated President Mohamed Morsi reinstating the dissolved People's Assembly (the lower house of parliament) has led to a state of political confusion, bringing an end to the relative calm that has prevailed since last month's hotly-contested presidential runoff vote.
The People's Assembly was dissolved in mid-June by the then-ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), pursuant to a ruling by Egypt's High Constitutional Court (HCC) that found a parliamentary elections law – which governed last year's legislative polls – unconstitutional.
Exactly one week after taking office, Morsi issued a presidential decree (11/2012) ordering parliament's dissolved lower house to resume its legislative responsibilities. The decree also called for fresh parliamentary elections within 60 days of the ratification of a new constitution.
Liberal-leaning political analyst Abdel-Moneim Saeed believes Morsi's decision will have a host of unpleasant near-term political ramifications.
"We stand on the verge of a constitutional crisis," Saeed told Ahram Online. "The HCC, not the president, has the authority to take such a decision. [Morsi's move] will have an adverse political and economic impact on the country."
Fears of autocracy
The reinstatement of parliament's lower house has also stoked fears that the Muslim Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) were seeking to monopolise the political landscape.
The FJP secured nearly half of the seats in the People's Assembly in elections late last year, before Morsi – until recently the head of the FJP – assumed power early this month. Many critics voice concern over the Brotherhood's control over the presidency and parliament – as well as other vital state institutions – which, its detractors say, could lead to an authoritarian political climate.
Fouad Badrawi, secretary-general of Egypt's liberal Wafd Party, echoed these sentiments.
"Mursi's decision is against the law and contradicts the ruling delivered by the HCC," he told Ahram Online. "This move transforms us from a country ruled by law into an authoritarian state."
Saeed went on: "Morsi took his oath of office before the HCC, where he proclaimed his respect for the law – and then he takes this decision. I don't understand this latest development."
Liberal activist Ayman Nour, for his part, declared on Twitter: "The presidential decree was shocking. It must be explained whether the People's Assembly will be operating legally. I urge President Morsi to respect the rule of law."
MP Mostafa El-Naggar, for his part, told Ahram Online that Morsi's move "appears to be part of an agreement between the president and the SCAF, but I can't figure out the legal aspects or implications of such a decree."
Former presidential contender Mohamed ElBaradei, meanwhile, stated on Twitter: "The executive decision to overrule the HCC decision is turning Egypt from a government of law into a government of men."
'Bona fide power transition'
MP and leading Brotherhood figure Mohamed El-Beltagi, for his part, heaped praise on Morsi's decision, which he described as a "bona fide transition of power from the military council to the presidency."
"The most important thing about the decision is that it proves that the president has the right to overrule decisions made before his inauguration," El-Beltagi was quoted as saying on the Brotherhood's official website.
"He [Morsi] showed his refusal to allow the military council to hold legislative power; but he doesn't want to leave a vacuum," he added. "This proves he will fulfil promises made before the elections to suspend the constitutional addendum, but through balanced decisions."
Last month's dissolution of the People's Assembly led to the SCAF's assumption of full legislative authority. A constitutional addendum, meanwhile, issued by the SCAF last month, granted the military council wide-ranging executive authority as well – at the expense of the presidency.
SCAF officials have yet to comment on Morsi's move reinstating parliament's lower house.
Not all of the Brotherhood's liberal detractors, meanwhile, were critical of the move.
Revolutionary writer Alaa El-Aswani described the decision as "the first step in the right direction." He tweeted: "Legislative prerogatives should be in the hands of the people – not the generals."