CAIRO — Egypt's Islamist-dominated parliament flexed its newly acquired powers Tuesday, accusing the country's military rulers of overstepping their powers by imposing a new presidential election law before the legislators were even seated.
The law, which lays out the rules for the vote expected later this year, and other military decrees are shaping up as a litmus test of the relationship between the new lawmakers and the generals who took power after former President Hosni Mubarak stepped down nearly a year ago.
Meanwhile, protesters clashed with Muslim Brotherhood supporters who were forming a human shield outside the parliament in front of the barbed wires and barricades already set up by security forces. Youth activists who led the massive street protests that led to Mubarak's ouster have accused the Islamists of ignoring their demands and siding with the military.
The fundamentalist Brotherhood, which controls nearly half of the seats in the 508-member legislature, has won control of 11 out of the 19 specialized committees inside the parliament, including the key defense and national security committee that would likely be in charge of reviewing the military's budget and other issues.
Protesters outside the parliamentary building in downtown Cairo chanted "You sold the revolution," while others heckled Brotherhood supporters leaving the area. Dr. Mohammed Sultan, head of the Egyptian ambulance service, said 71 people were injured, most from rocks that were thrown, and 30 were hospitalized.
Many leftist and secular activists fear the Brotherhood might form an alliance with the military to ensure it has influence over the drafting of a constitution — a task that the parliament will oversee.
Lawmakers, however, sought to assert their authority on Tuesday. Many accused the military of trying to avoid public debate by issuing the law before parliament was convened on Jan. 23. The law was published in the official Egyptian Gazette and was not publicly announced.
The law establishes new rules for electing a president and has a controversial provision that rights groups allege would make contesting the results before a court of law impossible. The military, which essentially rules by decree, has on several occasions made contradictory statements about the extent of authority it would allow a legislature one general described as "not representative."
Mohammed el-Beltagy, a member of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, asked parliament to review the law and change it if necessary.
"Let it be a clear message to the Egyptian street that the parliament has become the only and unchallenged legislative authority," el-Beltagy told lawmakers in the nationally televised session.
Mostafa ElNaggar, a member of el-Adl party that was formed after the uprising, agreed.
"This is an early test. We either decide if we will permit any interference in our mission or we won't," he said.
It remains to be seen how the parliament will handle the election law. Some legislators called for the military to repeal them. Others said the review process should be expedited, while some suggested moving up the presidential election date to avoid further clashes with the military rulers over authority.
Many lawmakers and activists have already demanded that parliament review other military decrees issued since the generals took power last February, including a law banning public protest and strikes, as well as a decision to only partially lift of the hated Mubarak-era emergency laws.
The largely secular and urban activist groups want an immediate end to military rule, and have called for the army to return to its barracks before a constitution be written and a president elected.
"It is primarily a challenge for the (Brotherhood) majority," said Hossam Bahgat, a human rights lawyer. "If the Brotherhood wants to send a message to its constituency and the public at large they are now an independent and effective legislature, they have no choice but to reopen (discussion) of these decrees."