Slap minus sting

Egypt is on the brink of another phase of turmoil. Its Supreme Court has declared illegal the country’s Shura Council or upper house of Parliament as well as its constitutional panel. It has questioned the laws under which members of these two bodies were elected.

Both are dominated by president Mohammed Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing. In a bid to ram through an Islamist Constitution and put in place laws that the Brotherhood favoured, Morsi had manipulated processes and rules to ensure that these two bodies were in the hands of his party. By declaring the process of election to these bodies illegal, the Supreme Court has dealt Morsi and the Brotherhood with a major blow. Since the ouster of president Hosni Mubarak and the coming to power of the Muslim Brotherhood, conflicts between the presidency and the courts have grown. They point out that the ruling questioning the legality of the upper house and the constitutional panel is the latest episode in the running battle between pro-Mubarak elements and the Brotherhood.

However, democratic forces in Egypt argue that this is not so much a conflict between pro-and anti-Mubarak forces as it the judiciary’s observation on the illegal functioning of the Brotherhood. Clearly the situation is complicated. What adds to the complexity is that the ruling is riven with contradictions. It has delivered the Morsi government with a slap in the face. But the slap lacks a sting. While declaring the shura council illegal for instance, the court has not ordered its immediate dissolution. Apparently the latter will continue to exist until elections to the lower house due to be held early next year. This will mean that for several months Egypt will have an upper house whose authority and stature are vastly undermined. Similarly, while the ruling has rendered the constitutional panel illegal, the new constitution it wrote will remain in effect. Since the constitution was approved in a referendum, it has the approval of the people, the court observed.
Egypt’s post-Mubarak political transition is getting more complex by the day. Neither the Brotherhood nor the opposition is happy with the court ruling. They will take to the streets to protest, delaying further the recovery of the economy. Morsi has emerged weaker from his latest face-off with the courts.

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