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Egypt's supreme court dissolves parliament and outrages Islamists

David Hearst and Abdel-Rahman Hussein

Highest court also rules army candidate can remain in election race in moves denounced as a coup by Muslim Brotherhood

June 14, 2012

Two days before the second round of presidential elections, Egypt's highest court on Thursday dissolved the Islamist-dominated parliament and ruled that the army-backed candidate could stay in the race, in what was widely seen as a double blow for the Muslim Brotherhood.

The decision was denounced as a coup by opposition leaders of all kinds and many within the Brotherhood, who fear that they will lose much of the political ground they have gained since Hosni Mubarak was ousted 16 months ago.

The decision by the supreme constitutional court ľ whose judges were appointed by Mubarak ľ brought into sharp focus the power struggle between the Muslim Brotherhood and the supreme council of the armed forces (Scaf), the military council that took up the reins of power after Mubarak's fall. The Brotherhood has now lost its power base in parliament, at the same time as seeing the military-backed candidate, Ahmad Shafiq, the last president to serve under Mubarak, receive a boost.

Supporters of the Brotherhood, liberals and leftwing activists were united in their outrage at what they saw as a carefully engineered move by Scaf to keep a hold on power. It was denounced by senior Brotherhood MP Mohamed el-Beltagy as a "fully fledged coup".

Dr Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a centrist former presidential candidate, echoed that sentiment. "Keeping the military candidate [in the race] and overturning the elected parliament after granting the military police the right to arrest is a complete coup and whoever thinks that millions of youth will let it pass is deluding themselves," he said in a statement on his Facebook page.

Other politicians went further, saying the decision spelt the end of the revolution. Saad Aboud of the Karama (Dignity) party told the Guardian: "This is a politicised verdict that constitutes a coup in political life. With the other verdict allowing Shafiq to continue in the race, today means the death of the revolution, and it is now imperative that we reconstruct it."

Mohamed ElBaradei, a former head of the United Nations nuclear agency, warned: "The election of a president in the absence of a constitution and a parliament is the election of a president with powers that not even the most entrenched dictatorships have known."

The Muslim Brotherhood's presidential candidate, Mohamed Morsi, said on Thursday that the court's decision must be respected, but the leadership was hard put to maintain its collective discipline. As leading voices within it in denounced the court's decision, the Brotherhood cancelled a press conference. At least one Brotherhood politician, Issam el-Erian, went public. "If parliament is dissolved, the country will enter a dark tunnel Ś the coming president will face neither a parliament nor a constitution," Erian told Reuters. "There is a state of confusion and many questions."

In its decision, the court ruled that one third of the parliament had been elected illegally and that the whole body therefore had to be dissolved.

Shafiq, widely seen as a remnant of the old regime, set the tone moments after the ruling with what sounded like a victory speech in which he praised the military. "The message of this historic verdict is that the era of political score-settling has ended," he declared triumphantly.

The decision means legislative authority reverts to Scaf. The military already holds executive authority until a president is elected and it is now up to Scaf to decide when new elections should be held.

On Saturday and Sunday, Shafiq and Morsi will face each other in a presidential run-off, but Thursday's decision has now raised the prospect that the election will be overshadowed by demonstrations. On Thursday night, protesters gathered outside the court, chanting "Down with military rule".

The decision did not come out of the blue. On Wednesday a decree by the justice ministry gave members of the military police and intelligence services the right to arrest and detain civilians, an order perilously close to the conditions of emergency law which Egypt has just shed.

The court's ruling throws Egypt into a period of further political instability and uncertainty after nearly a year and a half of troubled transition under the eyes of Scaf's military rulers.

The race for the presidency has already drawn deep political lines across the country. Opponents of Shafiq see him as an extension of Mubarak's authoritarian regime while those who oppose Morsi fear he and the Brotherhood intend to turn Egypt into an Islamic state and curtail freedoms.


:: Article nr. 88845 sent on 15-jun-2012 00:51 ECT


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