Egypt's highest court ruled on Thursday that the last prime minister to serve under Hosni Mubarak can stay in the presidential race and that a third of lawmakers in parliament were illegally elected, forcing a re-vote in a potential blow to Islamists who dominate the legislature.
In one of twin decisions, Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court allowed former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq to contest Saturday and Sunday's presidential runoff against the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate, Mohammed Morsi. The court ruled that a law passed by parliament last month banning senior former regime figures from running for office was unconstitutional.
The second ruling centred on parliamentary elections that were held late last year. A lower court earlier said that the law organizing that vote was illegal because it allowed political parties to run candidates for the third of the parliament's seats that were set aside for independents. The other two-thirds of the seats were contested by party lists.
The high court on Thursday agreed that the election for the third of the seats was illegal.
As a result, new elections must be held for at least those seats, and possibly for the entire legislature. The court did not specifically address what steps must now be taken, and the decision appears to fall to Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the head of the military council that has ruled Egypt since the fall of Mubarak on Feb. 11, 2011. Tantawi could suspend the current parliament until the one-third of seats is re-elected, or he could dissolve the entire chamber and order new vote on all 498 seats.
The Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists have the most to lose from a new vote. The Brotherhood won nearly half of parliament's seats and ultraconservatives known as Salafis won another 20 percent. Many of those seats were among those dedicated to independents.
The Brotherhood's popularity has dramatically declined in the six months since parliamentary elections were held. Morsi won only 25 per cent of the votes in the first round of the presidential elections last month. Non-Islamists in a field of 13 candidates won more than 50 per cent of the votes.
Hundreds of police and troops backed by armoured vehicles set up a security ring around the court ahead of the rulings and scuffles broke out immediately after the rulings were issued between anti-Shafiq protesters and the security forces.
Earlier, in the court, Shafiq's lawyer Shawki Al Sayed denounced the so-called "Political Exclusion Law" that banned ex-regime leaders, saying it "smacks of a desire to exact revenge, which undermines the sanctity of the law. It encroaches on freedoms."
Islamist lawmaker Essam Sultan defended the so-called "political exclusion law," saying, "The revolution is in a state of self-defense. Parliament has a right to tailor legislation for one person."
Shafiq and Morsi finished as the top two vote-getters in last month's first round of the election. The two-man race has polarized the nation. The anti-Shafiq camp views him as an extension of Mubarak's authoritarian regime. The anti-Morsi camp fears he and the Brotherhood will inject more religion into governmt and curtail freedoms if he wins.