Court date casts new shadow over Egypt transition


Two days before Egypt’s presidential run-off, a court will consider whether one candidate can run and whether rules that governed earlier parliamentary polls were valid – rulings that could upset a tortuous political transition since the fall of Hosni Mubarak.

On June 14, the Supreme Constitutional Court will examine the legality of a law challenging the right of Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak’s last prime minister, to seek the presidency.

Shafiq, a former air force chief, is up against the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi in a run-off on June 16 and 17 after they won the most votes in the first round last month, Reuters reports.

The court will also look at the validity of electoral rules used for an election, staggered from November to February, that returned an Islamist-dominated parliament.

The prospect of two all-important court rulings just before the presidential run-off typifies the drama and uncertainty of the transition from military to civilian rule that has been punctuated by spasms of violence and legal confusion.

The military council which took over from Mubarak last year is due to hand power to a new head of state on July 1.

But the court could plunge Egypt into a new political crisis if it threw out the electoral rules or upheld legislation passed by the Brotherhood-dominated parliament in April to bar top Mubarak-era officials such as Shafiq from running for president.

Seeking to derail presidential bids by some of Mubarak’s top aides, MPs approved a law on April 12 that stripped political rights from anyone who served in some top government or ruling party posts in the last decade of Mubarak’s rule.

The election committee disqualified Shafiq, but let him back into the race after he appealed, pending a ruling by the constitutional court on whether the April 12 law was valid.

The committee’s chairman also heads the constitutional court: the Mubarak-era appointee Farouk Soltan.

Maher Sami, vice-president of the Supreme Constitutional Court, said the court would hear the case on June 14, the state news agency said.

Though he did not say a ruling would be issued, Sami said a judicial advisory panel asked to prepare a legal opinion had finished its report, implying a decision was likely.

Islamist MPs initially drafted the law in response to a presidential bid by Omar Suleiman, Mubarak’s vice-president, who was ruled out by the committee on different grounds.

The Shafiq-Mursi run-off presents voters with a choice between a symbol of 60 years of military-backed rule and an Islamist group which is already the biggest party in parliament.

Excluding Shafiq at this stage, however unlikely this might seem, would throw the presidential election into chaos.

Yet the outcome of the parliamentary election could also be cast into doubt if the constitutional court upheld a ruling by an administrative court which declared in February that the electoral rules were unconstitutional.

The court found legal flaws in the elaborate voting system which it said had violated the principles of the constitution.

The system apportioned seats among individuals and political parties, allocating two-thirds to parties and the rest to individuals who were supposed to be independent of any party.

Yet those rules did not stop parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party from contesting the individual seats in the election that was completed in January.

The administrative court judge said political parties should not have been allowed to run for the seats reserved for individuals. He also said half rather than a third of the seats should have been apportioned to individuals.