Court allows Shafiq to stay in Egypt race, declares invalidity of 1/3 parliament seats


Former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq was given the green light on Thursday to run for president when Egypt’s constitutional court ruled against a law that would have thrown him out of the race, judicial sources said.

“The Supreme Constitutional Court has ruled that the political isolation law is unconstitutional,” the state MENA news agency reported.

The court also declared that some of the rules in a parliamentary election that ended earlier this year and which handed control to Islamists were unconstitutional, the sources said.

The court found that the seats of a third of the seats in the Islamist-dominated parliament were invalid, stirring fresh uncertainty in the politically divided country.

“The constitutional court ruled unconstitutional some articles of the parliamentary election law related to the direct vote system,” MENA reported, referring to the third of seats elected on a first-past-the-post system.

The ruling military decided on a complex electoral system in which voters cast ballots for party lists which made up two thirds of parliament and also for individual candidates for the remaining seats in the lower house.

The individual candidates were meant to be “independents” but members of political parties were subsequently allowed to run, giving the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party an advantage.

That decision was challenged in court.

The ruling will cast all of parliament’s legitimacy into question. Parliament speaker Saad al-Katatni, an Islamist, had said before the ruling that the house would have to consider how to implement it.

In the absence of a constitution, suspended after last year’s overthrow of president Hosni Mubarak, no authority had the right to dissolve parliament, Katatni said.

He said one possibility would be to hold by-elections for the seats ruled unconstitutional.

Experts have said the parliamentary ruling could lead to the dissolution of parliament or a re-run for the seats affected. The presidential vote that pits Shafiq against the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi will go ahead on Saturday and Sunday.

A judicial body had already recommended that both laws be overturned, allowing Shafiq to continue his bid and possibly dissolving the parliament. The court was not bound to follow that advice, but it was a likely indication of the ruling.

Analysts say that the election drama only two days before the Saturday and Sunday run-off is emblematic of the tortuous and messy transition overseen by the council of army generals since Mubarak was ousted 16 months ago.

“This sort of overhang is a reflection of our current state of affairs. Only days before the election and there is legal uncertainty,” Judge Mohamed Hamad al-Gamal, a former head of the state council, told Reuters.

Seeking to derail presidential bids by senior Mubarak-era officials, parliament approved the law on April 12 to strip political rights from anyone who served in top government or ruling party posts in the last decade of Mubarak’s rule.

That law initially prompted the election committee to disqualify Shafiq. But he was let back into the race on appeal and pending the constitutional court ruling.

In a security message its website, the U.S. embassy in Cairo said any decisions from the Thursday’s court session may lead to protests. “These court decisions may further raise the level of tension as Egypt heads to the polls to elect their first democratically elected president,” it said.

The election pits Shafiq, who is running on a tough law-and-order platform, against the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mursi, whose movement has vowed to uphold the goals of the uprising that propelled it to the forefront of Egyptian politics.

Mursi came ahead with 24.7 percent, against Shafiq’s 23.6 percent, in the first round of voting in May, which saw 13 candidates compete for the top job.

The race has polarized the nation between those who fear a return to the old regime under Shafiq’s leadership and those wanting to keep religion out of politics and who accuse the Muslim Brotherhood -- which already dominates parliament -- of monopolizing power since last year’s revolt.

“It’s the worst possible scenario,” said Hassan Nafea, professor of political science at Cairo University.

“If Shafiq is elected, this means the revolution has been aborted. If it’s Mursi, the country will be run according to the Muslim Brotherhood program, which most Egyptians reject,” he told AFP news agency.

The difficult choice has garnered support for the boycott movement, largely ignored in the first round of voting.

Now high-profile activists and celebrities are calling on the 50 million registered voters to abstain or to void their ballots, highlighting the fact that the very same judiciary that issued the controversial Mubarak verdicts will oversee the election.