Egyptian activists and political figures accused the ruling military council of having carried out a “soft coup” following a court ruling that dissolved the parliament on Thursday and kept Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister eligible for the presidential runoff election this weekend.
The decision by the Supreme Constitutional Court effectively erased the tenuous progress from Egypt’s troubled transition in the past year, leaving the country with no parliament and concentrating power even more firmly in the hands of the generals who took over from Mubarak.
The court ruling set the stage for the military and remnants of the old regime to stay in power.
Several hundreds of Egyptians marched to the iconic al-Tahrir Square on Thursday night in preparation for mass rallies against the court’s decision on Friday.
The politically charged rulings dealt a heavy blow to the fundamentalist Islamic Brotherhood, with the group’s senior leader and lawmaker Mohammed el-Beltagy calling the decisions a “full-fledged coup,” and the group vowed to rally the public against Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister to serve under Mubarak.
“This is the Egypt that Shafiq and the military council want and which I will not accept no matter how dear the price is,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
Equally blunt was another Brotherhood stalwart, lawmaker Subhi Saleh. “The court, I can say, has handed Egypt to the military council on a golden platter and free of charge too,” he said.
Shafiq’s rival in the Saturday-Sunday runoff, Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, said he was unhappy about the rulings but accepted them.
“It is my duty as the future president of Egypt, God willing, to separate between the state’s authorities and accept the rulings,” the U.S.-trained engineer said in a television interview. Late Thursday, he told a news conference: “Millions will go to the ballot boxes on Saturday and Sunday to say ‘no’ to the tyrants.”
“The military council transformed a soft coup into complete military coup under a constitutional umbrella and comic elections,” said Saif Eddin Abdel Fattah, a political science professor with Cairo University, on his twitter account.
Abdel Fattah said that an earlier judicial decision authorizing the military its intelligence services to detain civilians until a constitution is formed enables the generals to tighten their grip on power and hold ‘execute their full coup.”
The protesters who gathered in Tahrir on Thursday night chanted slogans against Shafiq and demanded his elimination from the runoff beginning Saturday. Some also carried banners for the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohammed Mursi.
“I’m disappointed beyond words,” activist Ibrahim al-Houdaiby told AFP.
“This is in many ways a soft military coup. Now we have the parliamentary power going back to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, they will have their presidential candidate, they have the arrest laws. So we are going back to square one.”
Abdul Muniem Abul Fotouh, a moderate Islamist who stood for president in the first round of the race, described the court’s ruling as a “complete coup.”
“Keeping the military candidate and overturning the elected parliament after granting the military police the right to arrest is a complete coup,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
“Whoever thinks that the millions of youth will let it pass is deluding himself.”
The court based its decision on what it said were illegal articles in the law governing parliamentary elections that reserved a third of seats for directly voted independents, or party members, and the rest for party lists.
Egypt’s 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 powerful Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) an advantage.
“Egypt just witnessed the smoothest military coup,” wrote activist Hossam Bahgat on Twitter. “We’d be outraged if we weren’t so exhausted.”