Egypt’s Highest Court Dissolves Parliament, Is Another Round Of Chaos Coming?
A new ruling from Egypt's highest court has set in motion a chain of events that could end very badly.
With the final round of Presidential elections just around the corner, Egypt appears headed for a new round of political showdowns now that the country’s highest court has ordered Parliament to be dissolved on the ground that the elections that brought it to power were unconstitutional:
CAIRO — Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court on Thursday ruled that the Islamist-led Parliament must be immediately dissolved, while also blessing the right of Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister to run for president, escalating a battle for power between the remnants of the toppled order and rising Islamists.
The high court, packed with sympathizers of the ousted president, appeared to be engaged in a frontal legal assault on the Muslim Brotherhood, the once-outlawed organization whose members swept to power in Parliament this spring and whose candidate was the front-runner for the presidency as well. The presidential election runoff is scheduled to go ahead Saturday and Sunday.
“Egypt just witnessed the smoothest military coup,” Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, wrote in an online commentary. “We’d be outraged if we weren’t so exhausted.”The ruling means that whoever emerges as the winner of the runoff will take power without the check of a sitting Parliament and could even exercise some influence over the election of a future Parliament. It vastly compounds the stakes in the presidential race, raises questions about the governing military council’s commitment to democracy, and makes uncertain the future of a constitutional assembly recently formed by Parliament as well.
The decision, which dissolves the first freely elected Parliament in Egypt in decades, supercharges a building conflict between the court, which is increasingly presenting itself as a check on Islamists’ power, and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The ruling, by the highest judicial authority in Egypt, cannot be appealed and it was not clear how the military council, which has been governing Egypt since Mr. Mubarak’s downfall in February 2011, would respond. But in anticipation that the court’s ruling could anger citizens, the military authorities reimposed martial law on Wednesday.
The exact grounds for the Court’s ruling aren’t made clear in the article, but it hardly matters. From the perspectives of everyone other than the military and those who still support the old regime, this is being viewed as a coup. Indeed, it’s hard to see it as anything else. From the perspective of an American, it’s as if the Supreme Court were to decide that Congress ought to be dissolved. It wouldn’t happen here, of course, because of the principle of Separation of Powers, which is a concept that doesn’t translate well to Parliamentary systems to begin with. If it did, then the entire idea that one branch of government could rule the other out of existence would be completely alien to both branches.
As with any decision by any court, of course, the question becomes what will happen if people refuse to abide by it. The military seems to be coming down on the side of the Court, which isn’t surprising, and the entire episode raises the possibility that the Presidential run-off election itself is likely going to be corrupted to begin with. But, what if the Egyptian Parliament refuses to comply with the order? Well, then you’re taking a potential civil war. I’d call it a Constitutional crisis, but Egypt is operating under a Provisional Constitution drafted last year with the express understanding that a more permanent document would be debated and drafted by the very Parliament that the Supreme Constitutional Court has now declared has now right to exist. What are the odds that the people, who elected this Parliament, are going to accept that outcome? Not very good I’d say.
The unknown in all of this, as it was during the Mubarak crisis, is the Egyptian military. If they stand against the people in any conflict that may develop down the road, something they didn’t do during the protests against Hosni Mubarak, then whatever bond existed between the protesters and the military will be broken and the two will be in conflict. That sets up the possibility of a pretty bloody future for Egyptians who, just a year ago, thought they had finally thrown off the chains of a dictator.
The Arab Spring, it seems, it turning out to have been no more successful than the Prague Spring was.