The Egyptian capital was reportedly tense Friday. Residents, bracing for renewed protests, awaited further reaction from politicians of the Muslim Brotherhood and street activists to court rulings that have thrust the nation’s troubled transition to democracy into grave doubt.
Angry protesters took to the streets of Cairo and Alexandria Friday, taking aim at a Supreme Constitutional Court ruling seen by many as a calculated power-grab by the remnants of the old regime.
The rulings dissolved the popularly elected Parliament and allowed the toppled government’s last prime minister to run for president.
Egypt’s military rulers formally dissolved Parliament Friday, state media reported, and security forces were stationed around the building on orders to bar anyone, including lawmakers, from entering the chambers without official notice.
“This is a part of the struggle that is not seen on the surface, but is now evident,” said Dr Walid Phares, an expert on the Middle East and author of "The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East.
The struggle, he said, is between three political institutions: the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and their friend and allies in the judiciary, and the parliament – controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood and radical Islamist Salafis.
He said the decision by the Supreme Constitutional Court is legal but has political ramifications.
“In normal circumstances, in a democracy, disbanding parliament and calling for new elections happens all the time,” said Phares. “But in a very charged political environment in Egypt this has been seen as a struggle between the military and the Islamists.”
Parliament was supposed to elect an assembly to draft a new constitution, but now that task will be handled by the SCAF.
The issue now, he said, “is that the process continues and remains within the law.” If this [constitutional] assembly represents all forces that will be fine, but if not, then there will be a problem.
“Maybe this could lead to further confrontation or it could mean going back to and giving a chance to everybody.”
Phares said when the [Hosni] Mubarak regime collapsed there was no time for civil society to organize and run for elections and be part of the initial constitutional assembly. “Now this may be a chance to create a new constitutional committee that represents all political forces.”
He dismissed fears that a president elected in absence of a constitution and parliament will be less legitimate. “The elections usually undo everything else; the act of elections is the highest legitimacy possible.”
What should happen now, Phares said, “… is elections should happen and winner forms an interim cabinet and oversee the next legislative elections.”
The contest for the presidency is between Ahmed Shafiq, a former prime minister in the last days of Mubarak’s reign, and Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim brotherhood.