CAIRO — Egypt’s highest court ruled Thursday that much of the country’s Islamist-dominated parliament was elected illegally, a decision that will force the dissolution of the legislative body and that plunged the country into turmoil on the eve of a landmark presidential election.
Local newspapers and Arabic television channels reported that Egypt’s military rulers would seize legislative power and planned to announce that the lower house was being disbanded.
The lower house, known as the People’s Assembly, is the most powerful part of the parliament. The Muslim Brotherhood, which controls just under half the seats in the lower house, stands to lose the most from the decision.
The court also ruled Thursday that Ahmed Shafiq, a former ally of ousted president Hosni Mubarak, is allowed to run for president, invalidating a law that had banned members of the disgraced dictator’s party from participating in political life.
Protesters clashed with security forces outside the courthouse minutes after the rulings were announced. Incensed revolutionaries called the two decisions the death of Egypt’s revolution and the final steps in a military coup.
“This ruling means that the next president will work without institutions; he will face huge criticism and rage,” said Sobhi Saleh, a leading lawmaker from the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party.
Among Egypt’s old guard, Saleh claimed, “there was outrage over the Islamic majority of the parliament. And there was a plan to destroy it.”
The court said that political parties unlawfully fielded candidates for the one-third of seats in the lower house of parliament that were supposed to be set aside for independent candidates. As a result, lawmakers elected to those seats will lose their posts.
The judges on the top court are Mubarak appointees and seen as sympathetic to the old order. That perception could fuel confrontations between protesters and security forces, who were recently given vast powers to detain civilians.
“Both decisions empower the Mubarak status-quo, which is no surprise, as the judges of the court were appointed by the latter, and represent a part of the so-called ‘deep-state,’” said Omar Ashour, an Egypt expert at Exeter University.
The question of Shafiq’s eligibility to run for office centered on whether Shafiq ought to be subject to a recently passed law that bars senior members Mubarak’s disbanded National Democratic Party from political life for 10 years. The court ruled that the law was unconstitutional.
Shafiq will compete for the presidency against Mohamed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood candidate. Morsi and his allies say Shafiq wants to return Egypt’s government to the repressive tactics Mubarak favored. Shafiq, in turn, says a Morsi victory would transform Egypt into an ultra-conservative Islamic state.
Amr Darrag, another leading member of the Freedom and Justice Party, said his party would respect the judicial decision regarding Shafiq’s fitness to run for office and would continue to strive to beat him at the ballot box.
“Our position was to do our best to legally isolate Ahmed Shafiq from the post of president,” Darrag said. “If we can’t do that, then the people will isolate him with the vote.”