Egyptians shout anti-military slogans during a protest in front of...

Egyptians shout anti-military slogans during a protest in front of soldiers standing guard in front of the Supreme Constitutional Court in Cairo, Egypt. (June 14, 2012) Credit: AP

In a highly anticipated ruling that put the legitimacy of Egypt’s legislature and future constitution in question, Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court ordered the dissolution of one-third of the nation’s first democratically elected parliament and allowed former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister to run in this weekend’s presidential election.

In its finding, the court was another reminder that the state has the final say over Egypt’s government despite an uprising that led to the fall of Mubarak’s regime 16 months ago and a series of parliamentary and presidential elections. And it created more uncertainty in an already fragile period. If one-third of the parliament is dissolved, could it still legislate? Can the removed parliament members serving on the constitutional assembly tasked with writing a new constitution still serve or must a new assembly be named?

It appeared the ruling significantly weakened the Muslim Brotherhood whose Freedom and Justice Party held 47 percent of seats, the most number of any party.

The ruling “means the parliament cannot exert its power,” said Hossam Issa, a law professor at Ain Shams University in Cairo. “The parliament cannot legislate.”

Although the consequence of the ruling were unclear, if the Brotherhood’s presidential candidate Mohammed Morsi wins this weekend’s run off election, he could try to restore his party’s power in the parliament and order new elections. If his rival, former prime Ahmed Shafik prevails, he could order the dissolution of parliament all together, undoing the Brotherhood’s gains.

But as the nation learned of the ruling, the impact remained unclear as Egypt is without a constitution. Even Issa, a legal scholar could not say for certain whether the constitutional assembly was still legitimate, for example.

“We are in a mess,” he said.

Mahmoud Ghouzlan, a Muslim Brotherhood spokesman, said he believes both the election and the constitutional assembly can proceed. And he said the Brotherhood would run again in the next parliamentary elections, whenever they are held.

The court ruling “is a fact, and we have to deal with it,” Ghouzlan said.

An election official reached by McClatchy Newspapers immediately after the midday ruling said that officials there were proceeding normally. And in the hours before the verdict, military officers drove through neighborhoods in armored personnel vehicles, handing out fliers urging Egyptians to vote this weekend, suggesting the ruling military council wanted the election to proceed.

The court, appointed by Mubarak, ruled on two cases — in the first case, on whether Parliament itself is legally constituted. At issue was whether the Muslim Brotherhood violated the current Egyptian constitution by encouraging its best-known members to run as independents, while fielding a slate of candidates who ran under the banner of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. Under the constitution, two-thirds of Parliament’s members must be affiliated with a party and one third must be unaffiliated independents. But critics say the Brotherhood stacked Parliament by pressing some of its members to declare themselves as independent candidates.

The court ruled the one third of individual members must be dissolved for violating the law.

The court also considered the validity of a law passed earlier this year that banned former members of the Mubarak government from running in the presidential election. Egyptian law bars Parliament from passing laws that target specific individuals who haven’t been convicted of crimes, and the court must decide if Parliament’s ban was aimed specifically at halting Shafik’s candidacy and that of former intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who at the time had also registered as a candidate.

If the law had been upheld, the ruling would have banned Shafik from the runoff and forced Egypt to hold a new presidential vote.

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