Egypt’s highest court ruled on Sunday that the nation’s interim parliament was illegally elected, though it stopped short of dissolving the chamber immediately, in a decision likely to fuel the tensions between the ruling Islamists and the judiciary.
The Supreme Constitutional Court also ruled that a 100-member panel that drafted the new constitution was illegally elected.
The immediate impact of the ruling is limited. The Islamist-dominated upper house of parliament, called the Shura Council, will remain in place until elections are held for a lower house, likely early next year. The constitution, which was ratified in a nationwide referendum in December with a relatively low turnout of around 35 percent, will also remain in effect.
Still, the opposition said the verdict shows that Islamists’ victories at the ballot box are tainted. They argued that the ruling further challenges the legitimacy of the disputed constitution, which was pushed through the panel by Islamists allied to President Mohammed Morsi.
The two sides are squaring off for what may be a major confrontation on the streets by the end of this month.
Morsi’s backers in the Muslim Brotherhood saw Sunday’s ruling as a victory, saying that it implicitly acknowledged the legitimacy of the Shura Council and the constitution because it stopped short of trying outright to abrogate either.
The Supreme Constitutional Court dissolved the Islamist-majority lower house of parliament in June last year, saying the law governing its election was invalid. The court was widely expected to issue a similar ruling dissolving the Shura Council late last year, but Islamist protesters prevented the judges from reaching their chambers when they laid siege to the court’s headquarters.
By the time they lifted the siege, the constitutional panel had already adopted the charter in an all-night session and handed Morsi a copy, and a referendum was called for its ratification. The new constitution gave legislative power to the normally toothless Shura Council until a new lower house is elected. It also barred dissolving the Shura Council.
In both rulings, the court stated that the law governing the election of each house of parliament breached principles of fairness because it allowed political parties to run for the third of seats set aside for independent candidates.
The turmoil adds to a long list of woes that Egypt’s 90 million people have to cope with in the meantime, from increasingly frequent power cuts and fuel shortages to rising prices and unemployment. News that Ethiopia began construction of a massive dam on the Nile, raising worries over Egypt’s share of the river’s water, reinforced a sense of siege felt by many Egyptians.