Egypt's supreme court demands new elections
THE highest court in Egypt has demanded that the country's Islamist-dominated parliament be dissolved.
The court also ruled that the last prime minister to serve under Hosni Mubarak could remain in the presidential race.
The decisions come as twin blows to the Muslim Brotherhood that could sweep away its political gains since Mr Mubarak's removal 16 months ago.
The order means that new elections will have to be held to form a new parliament.
The rulings by the Supreme Constitutional Court, whose judges are all Mubarak appointees, escalated the power struggle between the Brotherhood and the military, which stepped in to rule after Mr Mubarak's fall.
The decisions tip the contest dramatically in favour of the ruling generals, robbing the Brotherhood of its power base in parliament and boosting Ahmad Shafiq, the former Mubarak prime minister who many see as the military's favourite in the presidential contest, against the Brotherhood's candidate.
Senior Muslim Brotherhood leader and MP Mohammed el-Beltagy said the rulings amounted to a "full-fledged coup."
The Brotherhood and liberal and leftist activists who backed last year's revolution against Mr Mubarak accused the military of using the court as a proxy to preserve the hold of the ousted leader's authoritarian regime and the generals over the country. Many of them were vowing new street protests.
In the last election, held over three months starting in November, the Brotherhood came out the big winners, grabbing nearly half the seats. In the months that followed, the Brotherhood tried to translate those gains into governing power but was repeatedly stymied by the military's grip.
On Saturday and Sunday, Mr Shafiq will go head-to-head against the Brotherhood's candidate, Mohammed Morsi, in the presidential run-off. The race has already deeply polarised the country.
The Brotherhood's popularity had declined since the legislative elections because of moves that critics saw as attempts to monopolise the political scene and advance its own power. It angered liberals, leftists and secular Egyptians when it and other Islamists tried to dominate a parliament-created panel tasked with writing the next constitution. The panel was dissolved by court order, and a new one has yet to be appointed.
The dissolution of parliament now raises the possibility the military council could appoint the panel, a step that would fuel accusations that it is hijacking the process.