CAIRO - Tempers flared and protesters took to the streets after Egypt's constitutional court issued twin rulings effectively dissolving the Islamist-led parliament and allowing former officials to run for office just days ahead of a presidential run-off election.
Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court ruled Thursday that one-third of the Egyptian legislature was elected illegally, making the entire parliament unconstitutional and necessitating new parliamentary elections.
The court also rejected a parliamentary law barring officials from the rule of former president Hosni Mubarak from running for office. That cleared the way for former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq to compete in the presidential run-off vote, set for Saturday and Sunday. Shafiq placed second to the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate, Mohamed Morsi, in the first round of voting in late May.
Morsi said he "respected" the court rulings, although he told privately-owned Dream TV he was "dissatisfied" with the court's decision to reject the law that would have barred Shafiq from running.
Egypt's official MENA news agency quoted the country's ruling military council as saying the run-off will go ahead as scheduled.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the U.S. is monitoring the situation and expects to see a "full transfer of power to a democratically-elected civilian government."
"There can be no going back on the democratic transition called for by the Egyptian people," Clinton told reporters in Washington.
Anger in the streets
Protesters outside the Constitutional Court were furious at the rulings. Many in the crowd called the move a political decision aimed at keeping the old system in place. Some Islamist politicians said the rulings amounted to a military coup.
One protester, Mohamed Abdullah, said they show the powers that be are looking for ways to stop change.
"Today it's clear that everyone wants to hand over power to Shafiq. 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," said Abdullah.
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? We had a revolution and no revolution in the world brings back a tyrannical regime," he said.
Some political activists, like Mohamed Fawaz with the 6th of April Movement, say the court rulings were expected.
"It is very logical that the law [to disqualify Shafiq] was refused," he said. "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."
Riot police gathered behind the Maadi Consitutional Courthouse in Cairo, before today's rulings were issued. (Y. Weeks for VOA)
Anti-Shafiq protesters chanted outside of the courthouse. (Y. Weeks for VOA)
A young Egyptian protester was calling for Shafiq to be banned from participating in upcoming presidential elections. (Y. Weeks for VOA)
Protesters waved anti-Shafiq posters in front of rows of concertina wire, soldiers and police. (Y. Weeks for VOA)
Anti-Shafiq protesters reacted angrily after the court ruled that Ahmed Shafiq can run in this weekend's presidential elections.(Y. Weeks for VOA)
The courthouse was heavily guarded by military and police. (Y. Weeks for VOA)
Speaking to supporters in Cairo Thursday, candidate Shafiq called the ruling "historic" and urged all Egyptians to take part in the upcoming poll. 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 in the crowd outside the court vowed to keep up the street protests that brought the old government down last year.
But columnist and political observer Rania el Malki says the time for effective demonstrations may have passed.
“We are going to have the elections. People are going to go to the polls. They are going to say what they want and at the end of the day nothing is going to change the outcome," said el Malki.
Some Egyptians want to register their objections to both candidates at the polls. A group gaining momentum is urging voters to spoil their ballots. “These nullified votes would tell the two candidates that there is a third power,“ said protester Abdullah Mahmoud.
Lawyer Tarek Nagida says the ruling military council will 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 a decree issued Wednesday that allows military police to detain civilians. Some critics say the move essentially places Egypt under martial law.
VOA's Carla Babb and Jeff Seldin contributed to this report from Washington.