Egypt Shake Up A 'Coup With A Legal Framework'

In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate and Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister will square off over the weekend in a runoff election for president. Unlike the first round in May, many Egyptians are thinking about staying away from the polls because neither candidate is well liked.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. Egyptian voters go back to the polls tomorrow for the runoff in the country's historic presidential election. The leader of the Muslim Brotherhood is facing off against a man who was prime minister under the now-imprisoned former President Hosni Mubarak.

A top court ruled just yesterday that the former prime minister can run, allowing the election to proceed. At the same time, the court also issued a ruling that shocked much of the country, dissolving Egypt's Islamist-dominated parliament. Merrit Kennedy reports from Cairo.

MERRIT KENNEDY, BYLINE: The rulings from the Supreme Constitutional Court raised the stakes in the struggle between the ruling military council and the Muslim Brotherhood that will play out at the ballot boxes this weekend. The ruling that allowed former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq to stay in the race was widely expected, but the one dissolving parliament took many here by surprise.

Omar Ashour is a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center.

OMAR ASHOUR: So put it all together, and I think it's a coup with a legal framework, and until now it's bloodless, so - but we'll see the reactions on the street.

KENNEDY: He points to a decree by the justice ministry that allows the military to arrest civilians on charges as minimal as disrupting traffic or insulting the state. Ahmed Shafiq lauded the ruling that allows him to stay in the race.

AHMED SHAFIQ: (Speaking foreign language).

KENNEDY: In a televised news conference, he vowed not to repeat the mistakes of the past regime. He emphasized his plans for an honest government and a return of stability and security, which many Egyptians feel was lost with the revolution that ousted Mubarak.

MOHAMMED MORSI: (Speaking foreign language).

KENNEDY: The Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi also said he will respect the court rulings, even though he didn't agree with them. But in a television interview last night, he warned that the people's will for a break from the past regime is stronger than any court.

Many analysts are predicting a lower turnout for the two-day runoff vote than in the first round last night, when Morsi and Shafiq beat out 11 other candidates by slim margins.

Ziad Akl, a senior analyst at the Ahram Center For Political and Strategic Studies, says many Egyptians have become more disillusioned about the election process since then.

ZIAD AKL: Now what you have is the old structure all over again. Now you have simply a fight of traditional political forces in Egyptian society.

KENNEDY: Activists have launched a movement to boycott the final round of the election. Tarek Shalaby, a Web designer and activist, is involved in the boycott campaign, which has been dubbed the third option.

TAREK SHALABY: The military would never allow us to have elections that would bring about real change because they're the ones in control, and they're the ones that have controlled the outcome and know that if the outcome is not in their favor, they're not going to go ahead with it.

KENNEDY: But many Egyptians are eager to cast their votes. In a Cairo street full of shops selling auto parts, Ali Ramadan points to a banner for candidate Ahmed Shafiq, which he says he paid for himself.

ALI RAMADAN: (Speaking foreign language).

KENNEDY: He says Shafiq's experience in government and with the military is what Egypt needs right now. The ruling military council has long said that the presidential election will mark the end of the turbulent transitional period, but for many Egyptians, this week's events have only added to the uncertainty about the future. For NPR News, I'm Merrit Kennedy in Cairo.

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