Double whammy

A protester shouts slogans during a protest outside the Supreme Constitutional Court, which was making a decision on the validity of the law passed by the Islamist-led parliament that sought to bar Ahmed Shafik. (REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Twin rulings by Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court Thursday have the potential to send the country back in the direction of political uncertainty, underscoring the delicate balance of power between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military council that calls the shots in the land of the Nile.

In one ruling, the court decided to dissolve Egypt’s Parliament, which was elected at the beginning of this year to great fanfare. It did so on the grounds that the election law unfairly allowed political party candidates to run for seats designated for independents. While this is an admirable move in theory, the timing of the ruling couldn’t have been worse.

On the one hand, nearly six months have passed since that watershed election, in which the Muslim Brotherhood and more conservative Islamists won a clear majority. A much healthier state of affairs would have seen the court rule much earlier in the game, if not before the parliamentary election round itself.

If a blatantly unconstitutional law had been in effect for such a critical poll, it should have been struck down before the elections, and not six months afterward.

The Brotherhood itself appeared to be in disarray following the announcement, as its officials canceled a scheduled news conference in response, while its candidate for the presidency, Mohammad Mursi, appeared to accept the decision while maintaining, contrary to the view of the court, that only the seats for independents would require a new election.

Ironically, the Muslim Brotherhood members and Salafists who did win in January have seen their popularity dim in recent months based on their performance. Observers note that Mursi’s support in the first round of the presidential race was much lower than the support his party boasted earlier in the year.

But the ruling that parliamentary elections will require another go-around could give the Brotherhood, locked in a political battle for control with the military, a new boost – and one should expect Tahrir Square to again play a role in deciding the country’s future.

The ruling comes just days before Egypt engages in its second and final round of long-awaited presidential polls, pitting the Brotherhood’s Mursi versus Ahmad Shafiq, seen as the candidate preferred by the military.

The other ruling by the Constitutional Court endorsed Shafiq’s staying in the race, which is another poke in the eye of those who stress that the veteran officer is merely a holdover of the Hosni Mubarak era. Again, Brotherhood officials could barely contain their anger at the turn of events, with one MP terming Thursday’s events a military-orchestrated “coup.”

In the end, the two rulings will divert Egyptian politics from the realm of constitutional institutions, with all their faults, back to the street. This threatens to have dangerous repercussions for a country that is still reeling from its dramatic transition away from the one-party era of Mubarak.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 15, 2012, on page 7.




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