Tempers flared and protesters took to the streets after Egypt's constitutional court issued twin rulings, sparking confusion just days ahead of a presidential run-off election.
Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court Thursday rejected a parliamentary law that barred officials from the rule of former president Hosni Mubarak from running for office, clearing the way for former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq to contest the upcoming run-off. Shafiq placed second to the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate, Mohamed Morsi, in the first round of voting in late May.
The court also ruled that one-third of the Egyptian legislature was elected illegally, making the entire parliament unconstitutional. A court spokesman said, as a result, the lower house of parliament - the People's Assembly - must be dissolved.
Word of the rulings was met with anger and distrust on the streets outside the courthouse, sparking chants demanding the downfall of what was termed "the military regime."
Some Islamist politicians decried the ruling, saying it amounted to a military coup.
One protester, Mohamed Abdullah, told VOA it shows the powers that be are looking for ways to stop change.
"Today it's clear that everyone wants to hand over power to Shafiq," said Abdullah. "The deal with Shafiq is he's like a cat with nine lives. Shafiq is Mubarak's dog. He's the one protecting the regime."
Another demonstrator, Mohamed Hussein, called the ruling an outrage.
"By what logic can we return the tyrannical old regime?. Where is the justice in that," asked Hussein. "We had a revolution and no revolution in the world brings back a tyrannical regime."
Speaking to supporters in Cairo Thursday, Ahmed Shafiq called the ruling "historic" and urged all Egyptians to take part in the polls. He promised Egypt would return to greatness, saying its future would be written now.
He also rejected the use of violence, saying there is no need to use threats, and said he would respect the rights of all Egyptians to protest.
"The era of political score settling has ended and the individualization of the law or the use of the nation's statutes to achieve the goals of a single group against a person or another group has now gone forever,'' Shafiq said.
Some political activists, like Mohamed Fawaz with the 6th of April Movement, say despite some shock and anger on the streets, the court rulings were expected.
"It is very logical that the law [to disqualify Ahmed Shafiq from the elections] was refused," said Fawaz. "I have always expected that the law will be found void. We are talking about all the organizations of the country working together so that Ahmed Shafiq would become president, to return the Mubarak regime once again and to continue the military rule that has been going for 60 years."
The court ruling means the run-off presidential election pitting Shafiq against the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi on Saturday and Sunday will proceed. What happens next with Egypt's parliament is less clear.
Photos from the Protest in Cairo
Lawyer Tarek Nagida says the country's military council (SCAF) will now have to step in while parliament steps down.
"The parliament has to suspend its sessions because it lost its legitimacy by losing one-third of its members and, in this case, the parliament has to wait until the ruling power calls for new elections for the third of the seats of the parliament," he said.
At least one senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party warned Thursday that Egypt was entering a "dark tunnel."
Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh said he was especially concerned about decree issued Wednesday that allows military police to detain civilians. Some critics say the move essentially places Egypt under martial law.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.