Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court, made up of judges appointed by Hosni Mubarak before his ouster last year, ordered the dissolving of the Islamist-dominated parliament and upheld the right of Mubarak's former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq to run for president. The rulings came only two days before the start of this weekend's runoff election between Shafiq and the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood. Here are some questions and answers on the rulings and their impact.
WHAT DO THE RULINGS MEAN?
Egypt's transition to democracy is effectively thrown back to square one where it was 16 months ago after Mubarak fell and the military took power. New elections must be held to choose a lower chamber of parliament to replace the now dissolved one, which was primarily tasked with writing a new constitution. The drafting has not even begun because of disputes over Brotherhood attempts to dominate the process.
For now, the ruling generals will be in charge of legislation, taking back an authority they handed in January to the then-freshly elected parliament. Depending on who wins, they may hand over both executive and legislative powers to the new president. Many Egyptians believe the military wants that to be Shafiq, who was Mubarak's last prime minister. But if the Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi wins, the generals _ who have said previously they will never allow the group to dominate Egypt's politics _ are likely to balk at handing over many powers.
The generals are also likely to step in to form the constituent assembly in charge of drafting the country's new constitution, now that parliament is dissolved.
ON WHAT BASIS DID THE COURT DISSOLVE PARLIAMENT?
It upheld a lower court's ruling that the law governing the way parliamentary elections were held was unconstitutional. Under the law, the 498 contested seats (the other 10 are appointed by the head of state) were chosen as follows: Two-thirds of them went to candidates running on party lists, while the other third were contested by individual candidates, in which party members were also allowed to run. The Constitutional Court ruled that allowing party members to compete on the individual lists violates the principles of equal opportunity because it gives party members two chances to compete for all the seats while independent candidates don't have the same opportunity.
ON WHAT BASIS DID IT ALLOW SHAFIQ TO RUN?
The court threw out the "Political Exclusion Law" passed by the parliament last month which barred from running for office anyone who served in senior posts in Mubarak's regime during the last 10 years. The court said the law violates the right of equality before the law and excludes people on the basis of profession not a crime. The parliament passed the law after Shafiq and other former Mubarak regime strongmen applied to run, arguing that after a revolution that toppled Mubarak, his aides should not be allowed to run for office.
WHAT IS POLITICAL IMPACT OF RULINGS:
The decision is a blow to the Muslim Brotherhood in its struggle for power with the military establishment, which has been the behind-the-scenes power in Egypt since 1952. After Mubarak's fall, the Brotherhood rose to become Egypt's most powerful political movement, winning 47 percent of parliament's seats alongside other, more radical Islamists who took another 25 percent. But the dissolving of parliament robs it of its main concrete gain since the uprising against Mubarak and its foothold in governing.
The Brotherhood is in a tough position, as it has few friends left. It disillusioned many leftist and secular revolutionaries and parts of the public that supported it in the parliamentary elections because of its perceived attempts to monopolize politics.
Members of the Brotherhood, as well as many leftist and secular activists and rights monitors, say the verdicts amount to a coup by the military by tightening the generals' grips on the levers of rule in the country. No constitution defines the powers of the coming president, giving the military enormous sway over his authorities. Forming a new parliament will likely take months and may not come until after a new constitution. Only a day earlier, the military-appointed government gave military police and intelligence the power to arrest civilians to enforce order, a power likely to last even beyond June 30, when the army said it would hand over authority to the president and go "back to the barracks."
The Brotherhood-military power struggle is not finished. Morsi is still in the race, backed by a powerful Brotherhood electoral machine. Anti-military protests by secular and youth groups that have raged over the past year are likely to continue.