CAIRO -- A constitutional court stepped into Egypt’s precarious politics Thursday by ruling that the former prime minister of deposed leader Hosni Mubarak could not be disqualified from this weekend’s polarizing presidential run-off election against a candidate from the Muslim Brotherhood.
The decision came the same day the court added fresh turmoil to the battle between secularists and the Muslim Brotherhood by ruling that one-third of the members of the Islamic-controlled parliament were unlawfully elected.
[Updated June 14, 8:10 a.m.: The verdict immediately dissolves parliament and forces new elections for all 498 lawmakers.
"The makeup of the entire chamber is illegal and, consequently, it does not legally stand," said the Supreme Constitutional Court, according to state media reports.]
Both decisions infuriated political camps across this restive nation. Liberal activists opposed the candidacy of Ahmed Shafik, a Mubarak loyalist, as a dangerous endorsement of the repressive politics of the past. The ruling on the Islamist-controlled parliament was a setback to the Muslim Brotherhood, which was hoping to expand its power in the event its candidate, Mohamed Morsi, defeats Shafik in voting that begins Saturday.
[Updated June 14, 8:44 a.m.: The verdicts deepen tensions between Egypt’s military leaders and the ascendant Muslim Brotherhood over the political fate of a country that has been under authoritarian rule for decades. If Shafik wins and the Islamists lose parliament, the old guard would return to power in what may essentially be a repudiation of last year’s uprising that overthrew Mubarak.]
The court’s decision on Shafik was expected. The judges were appointed by Mubarak and the law passed by parliament to forbid former top regime officials from running for president was widely regarded as unconstitutional. The law was praised by activists, however, as a last chance to stop what they predict could be losing a revolution that has inspired the Arab world.
It is not clear how and when elections for new parliament will occur. The drafting of a new constitution has been delayed by political infighting and the nation -- ruled by a military council -- is in uncertain political terrain. Expecting unrest from the court rulings and this weekend’s elections, the Ministry of Justice on Wednesday granted the army wider power to arrest civilians and activists.
-- Jeffrey Fleishman
Photo: An Egyptian youth hangs a banner with a defaced picture of presidential candidate Ahmed Shafik and Arabic that reads "Shafik, the former regime," during a protest Thursday in front of the Supreme Constitutional Court in Cairo. Credit: Nasser Nasser / Associated Press.