The ruling military council held an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss how they would proceed after the country’s Supreme Constitutional Court ordered the dissolution of the parliament, an Egyptian daily reported on Friday.
The controversial court decision comes on the eve of Egypt’s second round of presidential vote, scheduled on Saturday and Sunday, between former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Mursi.
“The military council has begun important and intensive consultations with legal experts in order to write a constitutional declaration outlining the standards of the Constituent Assembly,” Egypt’s al-Masry al-Youm quoted an official source as saying.
“The complementary declaration will also stipulate the powers of the new president, and will likely be issued within hours,” the source said.
The source noted that the presidential powers would be derived from the Constitutional Declaration issued in March 2011, following the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak by a popular uprising in February. The new president would be sworn in before the general assembly of the Supreme Constitutional Court, the daily quoted the official as saying.
The United States said on Friday that it was “troubled” by Egypt’s top court’s decision to dissolve the parliament, and that it was studying the implications of the move.
“We are troubled by the court ruling yesterday that will effectively dissolve a democratically elected” body, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.
Analysts said that the court decision gives the nation’s army the means to keep its key political role and challenge the Muslim Brotherhood.
The constitutional court’s decision on Thursday to invalidate parliament on the grounds that a third of its members were elected illegally was a blow for Islamists, who currently dominate the house but stand to lose ground in any new election.
On Friday, the general secretariat of the People’s Assembly received an official letter from the Supreme Council of Armed Forces stating that “parliamentarians are no longer allowed to enter the assembly building since Thursday’s HCC ruling was clear that the assembly has been made invalid. This order must be implemented immediately,” Egypt’s daily al-Ahram reported.
The court also cleared the way for the presidential candidacy of Shafiq, the last prime minister to serve under ousted president Hosni Mubarak.
Shafiq, a former air force general, is reportedly close to the military’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
“After the verdict of the constitutional court, we are facing a constitutional coup’ which strengthens the army’s position, said Abdullah al-Sinawy, an Egyptian writer and political commentator, according to AFP.
“If the Muslim Brotherhood candidate fails to win the presidency, the loss for the Islamists will be all the harder because they are also being weakened on the parliamentary front,” he said.
If Shafiq is elected, the military council leading the country is likely to transfer power as promised, without much reluctance.
But the Brotherhood’s candidate Mursi will face “lots of problems” securing the keys to power from the army, he cautioned.
For some experts, the court’s decision is evidence of the tact with which the military has refined its strategy since taking power in February 2011, allowing it to protect its central role in the political process.
“The general judicial framework of the decision is shaky,” said Mathieu Guidere, a specialist in the Muslim world at France’s Toulouse University.
He stopped short of calling it a coup but said it was part of “a political strategy that has been carefully devised by the military, which is trying to keep all options open whatever the results of the presidential elections.”
The parliament’s invalidation in particular “leaves the field open for a rebalancing of the assembly in favor of Shafiq and a return to a presidential regime.”
Khalil al-Anani, a Middle East specialist at Durham University in Britain, also said the ruling should be seen in the context of a wider army strategy.
“What happened yesterday is part of the whole transition plan that has been set up by the military,” he said.
“The military over the past year-and-a-half has tried to absorb the revolutionary momentum,” he added. “They started with the youth, and now they are trying to suppress the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Strengthening the perception of a careful army bid to protect their powers is a decision by the justice ministry to restore the right of military personnel to arrest civilians.
That power was removed with the lifting of the decades-old, much-criticized state of emergency last month, and its activists immediately slammed the justice ministry’s decision as a return to the repression of Mubarak's regime.
Egypt’s army has long enjoyed a privileged role in the nation, producing all the country’s presidents since the 1952 revolution against the monarchy, which was led by a group of “Free Officers” from the military.
The Muslim Brotherhood, long repressed and kept largely underground, has on occasion held dialogue with the military, but now finds itself the institution’s main rival on the political scene.
For Antoine Basbous, who heads the Observatoire des Pays Arabes in Paris, “we are witnessing a disguised restoration” of the military-political power system in Egypt.
“The Egyptian army is not ready to cede power and to see the Islamists throw their generals in prisons and return the troops to their barracks like in Turkey,” Basbous said.
(Additional writing by Abeer Tayel)