Egyptian presidential contender faces court ruling on political fate

Ahmed-shafikCAIRO -- An Egyptian court ruling expected two days before next week’s presidential runoff election could throw the country’s politics into further disarray and ignite widespread unrest if the judges move to disqualify Ahmed Shafik, a loyalist to ousted leader Hosni Mubarak.

On June 14, the court has said it will rule on whether to uphold a "disenfranchisement law" passed by parliament in April to prevent top officials from the former Mubarak government from running for president. Shafik was prime minister when Mubarak, who was recently sentenced to life in prison, was forced from office during a popular uprising in February 2011.

The nation’s ruling military council endorsed the law. Egypt’s Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission briefly disqualified Shafik. He appealed and was returned to the ballot after the panel decided to ignore the law.

Shafik and Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi are set to face each other in a runoff on June 16 and 17 to determine whether Egypt is governed by Islamists, who already control parliament, or remnants of Mubarak’s secular police state.

The elections commission chose to refer the disenfranchisement law to the Supreme Constitutional Court. The court could decide that the elections commission should have implemented the law, which could push Shafik out of the race. Or it could rule that the law is unconstitutional by limiting the rights of a small number of prospective candidates.

"The extent of the mess now is unbelievable," said Ziad Akl, a senior analyst at Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. “All Egyptians are entitled to equal opportunities and to equality in the eyes of the law." 

Egypt is operating under a 1971 constitution that was amended by the military council following last year's uprising. The amended version limits equal-opportunity rights. The case becomes murkier because Farouk Sultan, who heads the elections commission, is also president of the constitutional court. 

“The political paradox is that you don't have an independent judiciary in Egypt because the judiciary is under the executive branch,” Akl said. He added that Sultan’s dual role is a conflict of interest that could upset the legitimacy of the election.

Shafik’s candidacy has been a setback for activists who have called for an independent judiciary and a state purged of old regime figures, which they say includes the ruling military council.

In a separate, but equally explosive ruling, the court on June 14 is also expected to decide a case that could dissolve parliament over the constitutionality of the country’s electoral law. In February, an administrative court referred the law to the constitutional court, suggesting that a provision allowing political parties to compete with independent candidates for individual seats might have been unconstitutional.

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-- Reem Abdellatif

Photo: Egyptian presidential candidate Ahmed Shafik speaks during a news conference in Cairo on Sunday. Credit: Khaled Elfiqi / European Pressphoto Agency

 
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