EGYPT faces renewed political uncertainty after the Muslim Brotherhood suspended co-operation with the military leadership, deepening a rift between the country's two most powerful forces.
Infuriated by an unexpected army move to limit its influence in dictating Egypt's future, the Muslim Brotherhood's leaders announced on Thursday that they would boycott a council created by the ruling generals to draft a new national constitution.
The potentially destabilising row came a day after the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which has ruled Egypt since Hosni Mubarak's overthrow in February, unilaterally decided to curtail the constitution-making powers of the country's new parliament.
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The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party won the most support in the first round of Egypt's legislative elections in the past fortnight.
With its more extreme Salafist rivals, who favour the strictest implementation of sharia, Islamist parties are set to hold two-thirds of the seats in the new parliament.
Under the convoluted terms of Egypt's transition to civilian rule, the parliament's key role was to appoint a 100-member constituent assembly to draft a new constitution to chart the country's course in the post-Mubarak era.
The army presented its decision to strip parliament of that power, and hand it instead to a 50-member ''civilian advisory council'', as an attempt to protect the rights of secular Egyptians and the country's Christian minority, who fear the prospect of Islamic rule.
''In the future, parliament may have the ability to do whatever it likes,'' said Major General Mokhtar al-Mulla, a senior supreme council figure. ''However, at the moment, given the unstable situation, parliament is not representing all the Egyptian people.''
The generals' move has prompted a backlash not just from the Muslim Brotherhood but from many liberal activists who saw the decision as unwarranted interference in the democratic process.
It also heightened suspicion that the army intends to intervene in political affairs whenever it sees fit.
The Muslim Brotherhood said it would reject an invitation to sit on the new council and refused to attend a meeting with the generals.
The secretary-general of the Brotherhood's political party, Mohamed Saad Katatni, said it had joined the advisory council on the understanding that it would give advice and opinion to the military rulers only until the parliament was seated.
Mr Katatni said the group had decided to withdraw because the military's expanded mission for the advisory body amounted to ''a derogation of the legislative institution and interference in the preparation of the Constituent Assembly which will draft Egypt's new constitution''.
The generals also earned the anger of activist groups after a controversial former police general, Mahmoud Ibrahim,was appointed to the sensitive position of interior minister in a new army-appointed government.
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