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.

FILED UNDER: Middle East, World Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    Of course like most Americans my first thought was, “Who can we get to dissolve our Congress?”

    But on a more serious note, this is the kind of thing that can get out of hand pretty quickly. Civil war in Syria is very bad, but something similar in Egypt? The dominant Arab state, with 80 million people and the Suez canal? That would be bad.

  2. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Yep, it’s looking more and more as though the U.S. liberal media’s self-proclaimed “Arab Spring” is not exactly coming up smelling like roses.

    In any case, in Egypt things won’t end well.

    Will Libya be the next example of the law of unintended consequences? I wouldn’t bet against it.

  3. Tsar,

    Why must you take every opportunity to bash the so-called “liberal” media when they aren’t even the ones responsible for the fact that the Egyptian military is apparently intent on subverting democracy?

  4. Moosebreath says:

    Tsar Nicholas,

    “the U.S. liberal media’s self-proclaimed “Arab Spring” is not exactly coming up smelling like roses.”

    Since the conservative position last year was that we should support the military and keep them in power, I am not sure why conservatives should feel like they have any complaints about the end product. Can you explain?

  5. @Moosebreath:

    The conservative position appears to have been that Mubarak should have been allowed to stay in power and kill as many civilians as he would need to in order to accomplish that goal

  6. Ben Wolf says:

    @Doug Mataconis: My understanding of the current situation is that during the elections, 2/3 of the seats were reserved for members of political parties and the other 1/3 for independents. According to Egypt’s high court political parties illegally competed for the seats reserved to independent candidates, tainting and invalidating the results. I don’t know whether this is a legitimate sticking point or an excuse to put the military back in power, but the court claims its decision is intended to ensure full compliance with the law.

  7. @Ben Wolf:

    There may well be a legitimate legal basis for the decision. As I noted, though, if the people perceive it as being part of a power grab, or as some activists quoted in the article called it, a “coup” then it the legal reasoning may not matter.

  8. Moosebreath says:

    “The conservative position appears to have been that Mubarak should have been allowed to stay in power and kill as many civilians as he would need to in order to accomplish that goal”

    Agreed. And if Mubarak is no longer capable of doing so (which given that he is in his 80’s is not a shock), then someone else in the military would need to be appointed in his stead. Which would get us to the same spot as this coup does. Hence my question to TN.

  9. John D'Geek says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    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 …

    Uh, it’s not the Separation of Powers that prevents it — it’s lack of cause. In other words, even our politicians and lawyers aren’t dumb enough to try and subvert the system in that scale.

    Usually.

    Hmmm … on second thought, maybe it’s because the Powers that Be simply choose not to sue? In any event, yes it’s quite possible for the SCOTUS to invalidate an election — and thus eliminate Capitol Hill until a proper election is held. They have the power! (The 14th amendment springs to mind as “cause”; just because it hasn’t been used that way, doesn’t mean that it can’t.)

  10. @John D’Geek:

    Well, also, the legal grounds that the Court in Egypt apparently relied on here would never work in the US. Article I of the Constitution says that the Houses of Congress are the sole judges of the qualifications of their members. There would be no case to bring in the Federal Courts to begin with.

  11. @michael reynolds:

    Actually, civil wari n Egypt is probably better than one in Syria. There’s less foreign proxies in the country, and it’s less likely to spread to someplace we care about (e.g Egypt isn’t going to spill over into Turkey)

  12. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Doug Mataconis: The conservative position appears to have been that Mubarak should have been allowed to stay in power and kill as many civilians as he would need to in order to accomplish that goal

    Speaking strictly for myself, my own position was “we shouldn’t support a change unless we have at least a good idea that the new regime will actually be an improvement.” I felt that way about Libya, I felt that way about Egypt, and I feel that way about Syria.

    A lot of us were reminded in 2008 that voting for “change” for the sake of change can sometimes be really, really stupid. Sadly, a lot of others still haven’t learned the lesson.