CAIRO: An Egyptian court threw the timetable for parliamentary elections into confusion Wednesday, ordering the cancelation of President Mohammad Mursi’s decree calling the vote and forcing a likely delay to polls due to start in April.
The Administrative Court’s ruling deepened Egypt’s political uncertainty at a time of social unrest and economic crisis, with the nation’s foreign currency reserves at critically low levels and the budget deficit soaring.
The court said it had referred Egypt’s amended electoral law, under which the lower house polls are due to be held, to the Supreme Constitutional Court for review.
Many opposition parties had announced they would boycott the vote, which had been due to be held in four stages from April 22 until late June.
Mursi’s office said that it respected the court’s decision, which was handed down as the government says it wants to resume talks with the International Monetary Fund on a $4.8 billion loan to shore up Egypt’s finances.
A statement issued by Mursi’s office said the presidency respected the court’s decision, adding that it was thereby “upholding the value of the rule of law and the constitution and implementing the principle of the separation of powers.”
Earlier Mohammad Gadallah, Mursi’s legal adviser, had made the same point but said the presidency would nevertheless appeal the ruling. However, the presidency said on Twitter that an appeal was “unlikely.”
The court made its ruling on technical grounds, saying in a statement that the Shura Council, Egypt’s upper house of parliament, had not returned the amended electoral law to the Supreme Constitutional Court for final review before passing it.
In the Suez Canal city of Port Said, scenes of heavy clashes between protesters and police that have left six dead since Sunday, the violence entered a fourth day, dragging in the military. Hundreds threw rocks at police, who fired tear gas to drive them back from a local government building, a Reuters witness said.
Army troops tried to separate police and protesters, and at one point a soldier was evacuated in an ambulance after choking on tear gas, the witness said.
“Stamp your foot, shoot your gun, Port Said is free,” protesters shouted, demanding the release of several demonstrators detained Tuesday. “The people want to overthrow the regime.”
In reaction to the violence, Mursi met with police officials to review the security situation, stressing “the importance of concerted efforts to achieve security and protect peaceful protesters while quickly controlling rioters,” the state news agency MENA reported.
The interior minister ordered that Port Said’s security chief be replaced.
Violent demonstrations also broke out in Cairo, where protesters threw petrol bombs at police and football fans set fire to a security car. Protesters battled security forces with stones and petrol bombs outside Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Scores of young men ran back and forth on streets covered with stones as they skirmished with police in the area along the River Nile near the U.S. Embassy and a luxury hotel.
In the southern Cairo neighborhood of Giza, football fans demanding retribution for people killed in the Port Said stadium riot set fire to a police car, MENA said.
“Violence is rising everywhere, about 500 injured in one day without any effort for dialogue by the regime. Is there still a president and a government?” opposition politician Mohamed ElBaradei wrote on his Twitter feed.