Egypt’s top court rejected a draft election law, risking delays to a vote that Mohamed Mursi says will help restore stability, as signs emerged of a rift between the president and some of his Islamist allies.
The Supreme Constitutional Court in Cairo objected to five articles on areas including the division of electoral districts. The measure will now be referred back to parliament’s upper house, the only part of the legislature still functioning after the lower house was shut down last year, the court said by fax.
Mursi has cited the proximity of parliamentary elections to resist pressure from secular opponents and some Islamist allies for a national unity government to help end unrest that has led to sporadic violence and thwarted an economic recovery. The latest protests are taking place in the Suez Canal city of Port Said, where thousands rallied for a second day and strikes shut down businesses.
Mursi also faced criticism from the Salafi Nour Party, which has backed the call for a unity coalition, after he dismissed one of its members as his environmental adviser. Another Nour official at the presidency quit in sympathy, suggesting tensions between the party, whose Salafi followers practice a form of ultra-orthodox Islam, and the Muslim Brotherhood-backed president.
The constitutional court has clashed repeatedly with Mursi since he came to power in June, and about half of the judges appointed under Hosni Mubarak have been removed. The president’s struggle with the court led him to issue a decree in November placing his decisions above judicial review, sparking a new wave of protests.
A slump in tourism and investment because of political tensions have left Egypt’s economy growing at the slowest pace in two decades and foreign reserves more than 60 percent below their end-2010 level. Egyptian stocks, bonds and the currency extended losses today.
The standoff with the court is “one more example of this government’s lack of governing skills,” said Michael Hanna, a Middle East analyst with the Century Foundation, a New York-based research institute.
Mursi’s spokesman Yasser Ali could not immediately be reached for comment.
The president has rejected calls by secular and activist groups for a delay in elections. While the court’s latest ruling did not directly reflect on Mursi, it may complicate his plans and add to political tensions, said Omar Ashour, a lecturer in Middle East Studies at the U.K.’s University of Exeter. He said lawmakers had been unwilling to revise electoral boundaries for fear of being accused of with gerrymandering.
In Cairo, Mursi’s ousted environmental adviser, Khaled Alam El-Din, held a televised press conference and demanded an apology from the president. The president’s aide for political affairs, Bassem el-Zarqa, announced he was quitting in solidarity.
Both men are from the Nour Party, an erstwhile ally of the president which has been working to bring him together with a secular opposition that has so far largely shunned calls for dialogue. Another Nour official, Nader Bakkar, referred to Mursi’s administration as a “totalitarian regime.”
The National Salvation Front, the broadest secular group, says elections should be delayed to allow political tensions to ease and the economy to recover. Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood was planning to rush ahead with the vote “so they can cover up the real problems facing people,” Front spokesman Khaled Dawoud said by phone.
In Port Said, a second day of demonstrations forced at least two dozen factories in the free investment zone to shut down. The military has deployed troops in the free zone to prevent damage and violence, Sameh Abdel-Khaleq, an employee at one of the affected factories, said by phone from Port Said.
The protesters are denouncing a court ruling sentencing 21 people to death for their role in the nation’s worst ever soccer riot a year earlier. The verdict sparked violent clashes in the province last month that left more than 30 people dead and led Mursi to impose curfews.
Yesterday, calls for a mass strike led to the evacuation of the Ports Authority building in the city, though Suez Canal traffic was not affected.