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Egypt's transition upended by court ruling (+video)

A dramatic decision by Egypt's top court today could force the democratically elected parliament to dissolve. Some called the move a soft coup by the interim military rulers.

By Correspondent / June 14, 2012

Members of the police force walk in front of the parliament building in Cairo on Thursday, June 14. In a setback for Islamists, a court declared that rules in the post-Mubarak parliamentary election that handed control to Islamists were unconstitutional. The head of the court said the lower house would have to be dissolved.

Mohamed Abd El-Ghany/Reuters

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Cairo

Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court today ruled to dissolve the Islamist-dominated parliament and affirmed the right of Ahmed Shafiq, a longtime minister under ousted leader Hosni Mubarak, to run for president.

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The dramatic decision effectively wipes away the transition timetable drawn up after former president Mubarak was forced to step down in February 2011, setting the table for a possible confrontation between the ruling military and the Muslim Brotherhood.

The ruling, issued by a court many see as politicized, was perceived by some Egyptians to be a power grab by Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) just weeks before it had pledged to hand over power to an elected president.

The decision also deals a major blow to the Brotherhood, which had dominated parliamentary elections that ended in January. Since then, the Brotherhood has been locked in a power struggle with the generals. Some in Egypt called the move a soft coup by the military. It came just a day after Egypt’s Justice Ministry extended new arrest powers to the military police and intelligence, which some rights activist said amounts to martial law.

Democratic limbo

The move leaves Egypt with no parliament or new constitution just days before a new president will be elected, raising the stakes of a race in which Shafiq, a former Air Force commander and Mubarak's last prime minister, faces off against the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi. With the parliament dissolved, legislative power will revert back to the SCAF. The future of the assembly chosen by parliament this week to write a new constitution is now in doubt.

“I think it's pretty clear that there might not be a transition at this point,” says Michael Hanna, an Egypt expert at the New York-based Century Foundation. “I think there are going to be elections of a sort, but it’s clear that the institutional infrastructure of the state is going to weigh in to protect its perceived interests.”

The court ruled that the law governing the parliamentary elections was unconstitutional because it allowed party members to contest the one-third of parliament seats that had been reserved for independents. With one third of the assembly elected illegally, the entire parliament was declared null. The court also struck down a law passed by the parliament, aimed at keeping Mubarak-era figures out of politics, that would have disqualified Shafiq from running for president.

A Brotherhood leader known for speaking his mind, Mohamed El Beltagi, said on his Facebook page that the court’s ruling was a “full-fledged coup.” But Dr. Morsi, in a television appearance hours after the court decision, said he would remain in the race, and that Egyptians must respect court rulings. He said the ruling did not amount to a military coup.   

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