The parliamentary ruling washed away the modest system of checks and balances that Islamists and revolutionaries had sought to build in the 16 months since the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak. Revolutionaries decried the court decisions, which cannot be appealed, as irrefutable proof that the country’s military chiefs had used the veneer of last year’s revolt to stage a coup.
“We had people on the streets, but it was all usurped by the military,” said Nora Soliman, one of the founding members of the liberal Justice Party. “The military succeeded in playing on people’s fear of a state on the verge of collapse.”
Small clashes between protesters and security forces broke out near the courthouse after the decisions were announced, but predictions that the rulings would immediately fuel widespread unrest proved unfounded.
A Morsi victory now appears to represent the only potential roadblock to a return to the old order, in which the state used its vast security apparatus and network of patronage to maintain order and muffle critics.
The exact powers of Egypt’s incoming president, and of the parliament, remain undefined, and the court-ordered disbandment of the lower house appeared to abort a committee appointed this week to draft a new constitution that would define them. The 100-member body was criticized by liberal and secular Egyptians who felt Islamists had a disproportionately large role.
Egypt’s military council did not weigh in on the legal decisions Thursday, issuing only a brief statement saying elections would proceed as scheduled. Local news media outlets reported that the ruling generals were expected to formally assume legislative authority and appoint a new panel that will draft a new charter.
On Wednesday, in anticipation of rulings from the court on the high-profile cases, the generals reimposed martial law, giving military police and intelligence officers the right to detain civilians.
Muslim Brotherhood leaders said Thursday’s rulings were part of a ploy by Mubarak-era stalwarts to make a comeback despite free elections that revealed the strong appeal of Islamist political parties.
“There was outrage over the Islamic majority in parliament,” leading Muslim Brotherhood lawmaker Sobhi Saleh said. “There was a plan to destroy it.”
‘Egypt needs leadership’
Egypt’s constitutional judges were appointed by Mubarak and are the senior members of a judicial system that is widely seen as wary of Islamists. The court was asked to rule on a law passed by parliament that banned senior officials from Mubarak’s National Democratic Party from political life for a decade; it ruled that it was not constitutional.