Egypt’s highest court on Thursday ruled a third of the parliamentary elections that took place between last November and January unconstitutional, prompting the legislature, in which Islamists wielded a majority, to dissolve. The Muslim Brotherhood, the largest party, denounced the move as a “coup.”
The military interim government, a day earlier, reimposed martial law mere days before the second round in the country’s presidential election is set to occur which pits a Muslim Brotherhood candidate against former prime minister and army man Ahmed Shafik, sparking fear that the military will seek to perpetuate the old regime.
The court simultaneously ruled on Thursday that Shafik could stay in the presidential race, striking down a law that barred members of the government from running for the highest office. The political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, which had enacted the law, also fiercely criticized that decision.
With parliament dissolved, the military will appoint a panel to rewrite Egypt’s constitution.
Just this weekend, lawmakers had agreed to form a committee composed evenly of secular and Islamist members to rewrite the law after the army issued a two day ultimatum to appoint a panel. The Brotherhood had hoped to delay the assembly of the constitutional panel until after the president election, which it hopes to win, so that it could eradicate the vestiges of the old regime which persecuted it as a sect for decades of military rule. The opposite will likely be the outcome now.
Sunday’s will be the first free presidential election in Egypt since the fall of former strongman Hosni Mubarak who was sentenced this week to life long imprisonment for the crimes that were committed during the dying days of his regime.
Mubarak resigned in February of last year when tens of thousands of Egyptians took to the streets of Alexandria and Cairo to demand an end to dictatorship. The army subsequently took power but it was the Muslim Brotherhood that profited the most. The Islamist group nearly won a majority in parliament and its presidential candidate, Mohamed Morsi, made it into the runoff election for the presidency.
Religious minorities and secular Egyptians worry that the Brotherhood will seek to impose Islamist law if it gains absolute power. Few of the young revolutionaries who demonstrated in Cairo’s Tahrir Square last year see the group as ushering in a new era in Egyptian politics but they do they want a return to the old regime either which a victory for Shafik would appear to embody.
Shafik, who was Mubarak’s aviation minister for nearly ten years before he briefly served as his premier during the uprising, has tried to claim the mantle of the revolution, vowing to defend civil liberties for secular Egyptians and women and not to let the country “drown in chaos.” Because preeleection polling is still in its infancy in Egypt, it is difficult to predict whether his is a message that is resonating widely.
The army has pledged to hand power to the new president by July 1 but few expect the generals to also give up the influence they hold over Egypt’s defense and foreign policy.