CAIRO — Egypt’s ruling military council won a preliminary round Thursday in its battle with newly elected President Mohammed Morsi when a key administrative court ruled it did not have jurisdiction to review the council’s amendment of the country’s constitution to strip the presidency of some critical powers.
The case is now likely to be referred to the Supreme Constitutional Court, the country’s top judicial body, all of whose members were appointed by former President Hosni Mubarak and which issued a series of rulings ahead of last month’s presidential election that undercut the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood. Morsi was a prominent Brotherhood member before he resigned from the group after being elected to the presidency.
The administrative court also postponed a ruling on the legality of the constitutional assembly that is drafting a permanent constitution. The postponement came after Brotherhood lawyers asked that the court’s judges be removed.
The two actions add to the sense of uncertainty that has dominated politics here since Morsi won a runoff vote in mid-June. Morsi took office June 30, but it’s unclear what powers he has, he has yet to appoint a government, and the Parliament, which the Brotherhood dominated, has been dissolved after the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that one-third of its members had won their seats illegally.
Analysts say they believe the current constituent assembly is working to complete a draft constitution before the court can rule on its validity, and that the Brotherhood’s filing for the judges’ removal was intended to buy time. “It is a cinema of lawsuits filed by the Brotherhood,” said Raafat Fouda, an international law professor at Cairo University.
The court said it would rule on the request that its members recuse themselves on July 30, but a ruling on the substance of the case is now not expected until September.
Amr Darrag, a Muslim Brotherhood member who is secretary-general of the constituent assembly, said the body is aiming to have a constitution written by September, and that the assembly’s committees had completed much of their work drafting specific sections of the document. He said he thought it unlikely that the assembly would be dissolved, as the Parliament that appointed it was.
“Having a constitution will bring stability to the country and will prevent the power struggles,” Darrag said.
Morsi and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which has been Egypt’s top executive authority since Mubarak’s resignation last year, have been sparring over Morsi’s power since his election in the first democratic presidential vote in Egyptian history. The council insisted that Morsi take the oath of office before the Supreme Constitutional Court – Morsi had wanted the dissolved Parliament to witness his inauguration. Days later, Morsi challenged the military council by ordering Parliament into session, an action that the Supreme Constitutional Court later rejected.
The council’s amendment to curtail the president’s constitutional powers came just minutes after polls closed in the runoff voting that elevated Morsi to the presidency. In its decree, the council gave itself final say over military matters and stripped from the presidency the right to declare war or to review the military’s budget.
The military council also gave itself the authority to appoint a new constituent assembly if the current body fails to complete its task for any reason – including court-ordered dissolution.
The 100-member constitutional assembly that is now in jeopardy was appointed by the now-dissolved Parliament, and like the Parliament it is dominated by members of the Brotherhood. An earlier constituent assembly was ordered dissolved in April because it included members of Parliament in violation of the interim constitution.
Ismail is a McClatchy special correspondent.