Egypt Court Dissolves Parliament, Clears Shafik for Runoff

Former Mubarak Aide Ahmed Shafik
Ahmed Shafik, a former air force officer widely seen as the army’s preferred candidate, has campaigned on the need to restore law and order. Photographer: Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images

Egypt’s highest court ordered that parliament be dissolved and cleared Ahmed Shafik, a former aide to ousted President Hosni Mubarak, to run for the presidency in what one former candidate in the race described as a “coup.”

The twin rulings are a blow to the Muslim Brotherhood, the biggest party in the Islamist-dominated parliament, and threaten to inflame tensions two days before its presidential candidate, Mohamed Mursi, begins a run-off against Shafik, a former air force general who briefly served as the last premier under Mubarak.

“Delusional is the one who believes that the millions of youth will let this pass,” Abdel-Moneim Aboul-Fotouh, a former Islamist presidential candidate said on his Facebook page, referring to anti-Shafik protesters. Allowing Shafik to stay in the race and dissolving parliament, together with yesterday’s decision giving the ruling military council the authority to arrest civilians, amounts to a “full coup,” he said.

The court rulings come at critical time -- the country has no constitution in place, while the military-appointed government and parliament have repeatedly clashed. Those conflicts have stymied hopes of concluding a $3.2 billion International Monetary Fund loan needed to revive an economy battered in the wake of the January 2011 uprising that pushed Mubarak from power. The military has previously said it will hand power to a civilian president by the end of this month.

‘Soft Coup’

“Egypt just witnessed a soft coup,” said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center, in a phone interview. “If the parliament is disbanded and the constitution is put on hold and Ahmed Shafik wins the presidency, then the transition is effectively over.”

The court, in a ruling issued by its deputy head, Abdel-Wahab Abdel-Razek, in Cairo today, declared unconstitutional a law that barred some former top Mubarak aides from holding senior posts. The legislation could have excluded Shafik from the two-man runoff vote if it had been upheld.

The court also found that part of the law under which the parliament was elected was illegal, as it allowed parties to field nominees for seats earmarked for independent candidates. That ruling is irreversible and means the entire legislature is illegitimate, court spokesman Maher Sami said. The Brotherhood formed the assembly’s largest bloc after winning elections that ended in January. The court said parliament has no "standing under law."

Emergency Session

The ruling military council, which took power after Mubarak’s overthrow in February last year went into an emergency meeting to discuss the court ruling, state-run Nile News said.

With Egypt’s legislature ruled illegitimate, the generals may take over responsibility for writing a new constitution from parliament, Al Arabiya television reported, without saying how it got the information.

Egypt’s 5.75 percent dollar bonds due in April 2020 retreated, pushing the yield up two basis points to 6.7 percent at 4:15 p.m. in Cairo. The benchmark EGX 30 Index of stocks declined less than 0.1 percent.

“Egypt’s political crisis has undoubtedly taken a turn for the worse,” Said Hirsh, a London-based economist at Capital Economics Ltd., said in response to e-mailed questions. He said more social unrest and protests are likely, and investors “will steer clear from Egypt as no clear governance structure or credible economic plan is likely to emerge soon.”

Restore Security

Shafik, addressing supporters in Cairo after the verdict, reiterated his pledges to restore security. He said the military council, the target of protests since it took over from Mubarak, has protected the country from fragmentation.

Shafik has run as the law-and-order candidate and also played on fears of a religious takeover among some Egyptians, promising to keep the state secular.

Mursi spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan predicted protests against the court’s ruling on Shafik, adding: “The people completely reject this man.”

Ahmed Maher, co-founder of the April 6 youth movement that was a major force in last year’s uprising, said by phone that the court’s rulings were a “major provocation” to the revolution. The dissolution of parliament leaves doubt over whether the laws it enacted are legitimate, he said. “It’s all up in the air now.”

Shafik, who finished second behind Mursi in the initial round of voting last month, had been disqualified from the race when the law on Mubarak-era officials was passed in late April. He was reinstated by the election commission when it referred the law to the constitutional court for a decision.

Hatem Bagato, the commission’s secretary-general, said the decision to allow Shafik to run “saved the country from a huge constitutional crisis.” He said the runoff will proceed as planned.