Dissolution Of Egyptian Parliament Inflames Election

A ruling from Egypt's highest court Thursday morning will allow former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq to remain on the ballot for the upcoming presidential run-off. Troops are deployed around the Supreme Court building in anticipation of protests against the ruling. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson talks to Audie Cornish for more.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. A political shock in Egypt today. The nation's highest court dissolved the newly elected Islamist-dominated parliament. Many there are describing the move as a coup by the military-led government. The court also threw out a parliamentary measure that had banned members of former President Hosni Mubarak's regime from running for office. That's important because one of the two remaining candidates vying for the presidency is Mubarak's last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq. And the court's ruling allows him to participate in the presidential runoff this weekend.

From In a moment, we'll hear directly from a member of the Egyptian Parliament, but first, NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Cairo. She has been reporting from Tahrir Square, the epicenter of last year's revolution that ousted Mubarak. Tonight, a few hundred protesters have gathered there, though the square is relatively empty. Earlier, I asked Soraya about the reason for today's rulings by Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court. describe the scene there at Tahrir at this moment.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: It's very confusing at this stage. What we do know is that the high constitutional court today seems to have upheld a lower court ruling that found that a third of the seats in parliament, which are held by independents, that the people who were elected to those seats were elected illegally. Basically, what happened is that these people were represented by parties, and they were not independents. And so basically as a result of this, the entire parliament is to be dissolved. Who actually does that, whether it's this court or whether it's going to be the generals who are ruling this country at the moment, that's still a little bit unclear.

CORNISH: So is this a coup by the military-led government as many critics of the rulings are claiming?

NELSON: Well, this is what Khaled Fahmy, the chair of the history department at the American University in Cairo, had to say.

KHALED FAHMY: Yes, it is a coup. It's a coup not by tanks. It's a coup by courts, by law. It's a coup that has been prepared for carefully, didn't start today. But today, of course, was a serious escalation whereby we had the parliament dissolved, and at the same time, the green light being given to the frontrunner of the military, the favored candidate, Ahmed Shafiq, to run.

NELSON: There are many people here who describe this as a military coup or a soft coup similar to what happened in Algeria in 1991 when the Islamist party there was on the verge of victory. The military ended up taking over, and much violence resulted as a result of that.

CORNISH: Now, the Islamists are the main force in parliament. How are they reacting?

NELSON: Well, it's been a mixed reaction, basically. We've had many of them saying that this is just not right. This is a political coup. Certain leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, which, of course, is the dominant force in parliament, have said that. But then others have said, no, that they would respect the ruling. One of them is in fact the Muslim Brotherhood candidate for president, Mohammed Mursi.

CORNISH: How are the youth groups that were pivotal to the revolution taking this?

NELSON: Not well at all. You can hear them gathering behind me. They are screaming void, null. They're chanting revolutionary chants. Many here feel this is such a big step back, and that basically this takes away all the progress that was made since February 2011.

CORNISH: Soraya, what does this mean for the presidential runoff that was slated for this weekend?

NELSON: Well, the government announced that the election will in fact take place on Saturday. And at this point, both candidates say they are taking part. I mean, while Mohammed Mursi, the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate, did not specifically say he will do it, he kept referring in an interview with Dream TV, which is a local television station here, he kept saying that he - when he's president, God willing, this is what he would do.

CORNISH: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, thank you.

NELSON: You're welcome.

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