CAIRO -- Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi challenged the nation's military leaders Sunday by calling for Parliament to reconvene, weeks after a high court ordered the legislature to dissolve because of fears that Islamists would dominate the government.
A week into his presidency, Mr. Morsi's surprise move threatened to plunge the country anew into instability and violence, nearly 17 months after the ouster of authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak.
Mr. Morsi's decree appeared to take the generals off guard. In the first sign of an imminent crisis, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces held an "emergency meeting" shortly after Mr.Morsi's announcement.
The official Middle East News Agency said the generals met to "review and discuss the consequences" of the decision.
The Supreme Constitutional Court, the tribunal that dissolved the legislature last month, was to meet today.
It is unclear whether Mr. Morsi has the authority to restore the Islamist-controlled Parliament while the chamber's fate remains before the courts.
Mr. Morsi's strategy was part of a presidential decree that also called for a new legislature to be elected 60 days after a new constitution is ratified before year's end.
The president invites Parliament "to convene again and to exercise its prerogatives," the official news agency said.
Lawmakers were expected to attempt to enter the heavily guarded Parliament building today.
The army limited the president's authority days before Mr. Morsi was declared the winner of a runoff election last month. The military is intensely suspicious of Islamists and for decades backed the police state that persecuted them.
The ordeal presents a crucial test for Mr. Morsi and the generals. It may foreshadow whether the army, like the Turkish military decades ago, is willing to intervene in the government to block an Islamist leader from consolidating power.
Mr. Morsi either could benefit from public anger against the army or end up embarrassed and politically weakened if the generals move against him and the Brotherhood's political party.
"The president decided it's in the country's best interests to reinstate the freely elected Parliament until a constitution is drafted," a statement from the Brotherhood said.
It added that Mr. Morsi, who ended his membership with the Brotherhood after winning the presidency, "decided to side with the public will and rule of law."
The Brotherhood and ultraconservative Salafis controlled nearly 70 percent of the Parliament elected in January.
The Supreme Constitutional Court ordered the assembly dissolved over problems with the electoral process. The military acted on the ruling, widely seen as an army tactic to keep Islamists from controlling two branches of government. The case is before an administrative court.
Much of the confusion stems from the military's amendments to an existing constitution that give it broad domain over the armed forces, national budget, and security matters usually under the president's jurisdiction.
Mr. Morsi has been pressuring the military to relinquish power and not influence the drafting of a constitution, a process marred by infighting and the Brotherhood's attempts to dictate the outlines of the document.
Mr. Morsi's decree coincided with a visit to Cairo by Deputy Secretary of Defense William Burns, who said Washington would help jump-start Egypt's ailing economy. "Egyptians know far better than we do that their aspirations are not yet fully realized," Mr. Burns said after meeting with Mr. Morsi. "But they can count on America's partnership on the complicated road ahead."