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Experts: Court Rulings Constitute a Blow to Civilian Forces

[Tahrir Square - Egyptians protesting against the court verdicts of Mubarak's trial. Image originally posted to Flickr by Lorenz Khazaleh.] [Tahrir Square - Egyptians protesting against the court verdicts of Mubarak's trial. Image originally posted to Flickr by Lorenz Khazaleh.]

Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) dealt a blow on Thursday to civilian forces by handing down rulings that effectively dissolved Parliament, returned legislative powers to the military and affirmed the legality of former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq’s bid for presidency.

In a much anticipated court session, the SCC deemed the Parliamentary Elections Law unconstitutional, under which an Islamist-dominated Parliament was elected earlier this year. The court based its ruling on the law’s failure to ensure independent and party candidates equal opportunities. While parties were allowed to run for all contested seats, the bid of independent parliamentary hopefuls was restricted to only one-third of the seats.

According to Hossam Issa, a law professor at Ain Shams University, the verdict means that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces shall assume legislative powers until Parliament is reelected.

For the generals, taking over parliamentary powers is not a new responsibility. Since Hosni Mubarak stepped down in February 2011 until the People’s Assembly first convened in January 2012, the military authorities held both executive and legislative powers. During that period, they issued several laws that regulated the establishment of political parties and the exercise of political rights, and criminalized protests that would obstruct the economy.

Issa dropped a bombshell by arguing that the presidential election set for this weekend should be postponed until Parliament is reelected.

“According to the Constitutional Declaration, the parliamentary elections must precede the presidential election,” he told Egypt Independent.

However, SCC head Farouk Sultan told Al-Masry Al-Youm that the ruling would not affect the upcoming presidential runoff slated for Saturday and Sunday.

The fate of the newly formed Constituent Assembly, elected by Parliament on Tuesday and tasked with writing the new constitution, is also up in the air.

According to Rafaat Fouda, a constitutional law professor at Cairo University, the ruling would lead to the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, because “it includes members of Parliament that has now been dissolved.”

Several secular parties had withdrawn from the Constituent Assembly on grounds that it is dominated by Islamists. The State Council is currently looking into the legality of the assembly.

The SCC ruling is not new. The Egyptian Parliament was dissolved twice in 1987 and 1990 after SCC verdicts that deemed election regulations unconstitutional.

In the same session on Thursday, the SCC also declared the Political Isolation Law, which bars high-ranking officials of Mubarak’s regime from running for public office, unconstitutional. Based on this verdict, Ahmad Shafiq, Mubarak’s last prime minister and former commander of Egypt’s air forces, is entitled to compete in the presidential runoff against the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsy.

Parliament had passed the Political Isolation Law only a few weeks ahead of the presidential poll in a last-minute attempt to exclude Mubarak regime stalwarts. However, the Presidential Election Commission refused to enforce the law against Shafiq and referred it to the SCC.

The Salafi Nour Party, which holds almost one-quarter of the People’s Assembly’s seats, expressed its disappointment with today’s rulings.

“The verdicts were shocking. They take us back to square one. They also reproduce the old regime with all its details,” Nader Bakkar, Nour Party spokesperson, said.

He expected today's verdicts to increase Morsy's chances in the runoff. “People have already started sensing a real threat to the revolution,” Bakkar added.

“The dissolution of Parliament means that we have wasted a 16-month-long transitional period without achieving anything,” Bakkar contended.

For some observers, today’s verdicts attest to a coup d’état whereby the SCAF seeks to retain the helm of the state almost two weeks before the deadline set for the transfer of power to civilians.

“This is a hard coup d’état with a constitutional mask,” said Saif Eddin Abdel Fattah, a political science professor with Cairo University. “This is a betrayal of the revolution on the SCAF’s part. Revolutionary forces will not stay silent.”

Last month, Morsy and Shafiq qualified for the runoff by garnering almost one-quarter of more than 23 million votes in the first round, beating 11 other candidates.

Shafiq’s political ascent had provoked thousands of protesters to take to the streets to demand the enforcement of the Political Isolation Law and a rerun of the presidential poll.

Abdel Fattah insisted that Morsy should withdraw from the upcoming runoff. “We should not bestow legitimacy on elections run by the generals. This election will bring Shafiq to power despite all of us,” he said.

“The martial laws announced [yesterday] by the justice minister and today’s SCC verdicts imply a full coup d’état. Hence, we cannot expect Morsy to win the election in this situation,” he added, referring to a recent government decision to grant military police and military intelligence the right to arrest civilians.

However, the Muslim Brotherhood has already announced that Morsy will continue in the race.

“From day one, we established one strategic principle for ourselves — the full respect of all court verdicts so that we can reinforce the concept of a modern state,” Hatem Abdel Azim, a lawmaker representing the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, told Egypt Independent.

He denied that the party would engage in street protests to object to the rulings. “I believe we will move forward with the elections,” he said. “We will not waste our time in protests when we are required to work [on electoral campaigning].”

Additional reporting by Abdel-Rahman Hussein.

[This article originally appeared in Egypt Independent.]

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