Egypt’s embattled transition of power was dealt a crippling blow on Thursday when a panel of judges issued a sweeping pair of rulings that dissolved the popularly elected parliament and allowed Hosni Mubarak’s former prime minister to run for president.
The country now finds itself with no parliament, no constitution (nor a clear process for drafting one), and facing a deeply divisive presidential race. The court decisions effectively leave the Supreme Council of Armed Forces with full executive and legislative control of the country and in a position to closely oversee, and thus influence, the constitution-drafting process.
The rulings came a day after the justice ministry announced a decree that gives members of the military police and intelligence services the right to arrest and detain civilians, a refashioning of the thirty-year emergency law Egypt had finally shed just two weeks earlier.
“The heavy-handedness of all this is kind of shocking in its totality,” says Michael Wahid Hanna, a fellow at New York–based Century Foundation. “SCAF is a bull when it enters the political ring, it doesn’t know how to do anything subtlety.”
Dozens of protesters gathered outside the Supreme Constitutional Court on a Nile-side road in southern Cairo on Thursday morning in anticipation of the news. Military police and central security forces backed by armored personnel carriers and police trucks were stationed behind a barbed-wire barricade in the middle of the street.
The court, comprised entirely of Mubarak-appointed judges, ruled that one-third of the parliament had been elected illegally, through a misapplication of rules for independent candidates, and that the whole body had therefore to be dissolved. The decision brought into sharp focus the struggle between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood which had won the biggest bloc in the People’s Assembly, with nearly 47 percent of the seats.
The court also struck down a law, passed in April, that would have barred senior officials of Mubarak’s regime from running for office for ten years and which would have applied to presidential candidate Ahmed Shafik, Mubarak’s last prime minister. The legislation was signed by SCAF, yet the presidential elections commission allowed Shafik to run, referring the bill to the Supreme Constitutional Court.
Following the rulings, Shafik held a press conference that resembled a victory rally, hailing the court’s “historic decision.” He now faces Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, in a presidential runoff scheduled to take place this weekend.
“Unfortunately, Egypt’s judiciary is completely politicized,” says Lotfi El-Zobagi, a 47-year-old laborer who had come to protest outside the courthouse. “The SCAF makes the judges rule against the revolution and against the dreams of all us revolutionaries.”