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Egyptian Court Decision Could Give Power to the Military, says Human Rights Official

An Egyptian youth hangs a banner with a defaced picture of presidential candidate, Ahmed Shafiq and Arabic that reads "Shafiq, the former regime," during a protest in front the Supreme Constitutional Court in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, June 14, 2012.
Heba Morayef, a researcher with the U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW), says the ruling by the Supreme Constitutional Court could hand over unbridled power to the military.
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The court ruled as unconstitutional a parliamentary law that barred officials from former President Hosni Mubarak’s administration from running for office. The ruling clears the way for former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq to contest this weekend’s presidential run-off vote.

The court also ruled that one-third of the Egyptian legislature was elected illegally, making the entire parliament unconstitutional. The armed forces took power following the ouster of Mr. Mubarak.

According to Morayef, “in the absence of a parliament and the absence of a constitution that will spell out the rights of a new president, and with a military which is still very proactively involved in decision making…this leaves all legislative authority in the hands of the military. This creates a situation, which is vulnerable to abuse in terms of what the military might legislate for itself.”

The announcement of the rulings was met with anger and distrust on the streets outside the courthouse, sparking chants demanding the downfall of what protesters termed “the military regime.” Some Islamist politicians decried the ruling, saying it amounted to a military coup.

Morayef said Egyptians are displeased with the military’s continued hold on power.

“There was a year in which the military was making all the major political decisions in the country…without transparency…,” continued Morayef. “What parliament brought in the last five months [was] a bit of a check to the military’s power and involvement and definitely forced more [transparent] decision making in the process. Now, in a sense we are back to square one,” continued Morayef.

She says there’s concern over the possibility of a return to unchecked and non-transparent military power, especially after today’s rulings “with the likelihood of Shafiq running as one of the two candidates obviously a former military man and very much seen as part of that system [and] especially given the behavior of the military over the last year and a half.”

Some Egyptians have called for parliament to be dissolved following the court ruling. Morayef said that’s a real possibility though by law only the executive branch can make that decision.

Meanwhile the Muslim brotherhood is reportedly meeting to decide its next line of action following the Supreme Court’s decision. Morayef said there are a number of options that the brotherhood is considering.

“They’ve said that all options are on the table including a potential withdrawal of their candidate Mohamed Morsi from the run-off round,” said Morayef.