A two-edged sword
The Muslim Brotherhood may have won the presidential elections but they have lost any legislative clout, Gamal Essam El-Din
On 14 June the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) ruled the election law that resulted in Egypt's first Islamist-dominated People's Assembly unconstitutional. It based its judgement on the discriminatory nature of regulations that not only reserved two thirds of seats for part-list candidates, but also allowed party affiliated candidates to compete in the remaining third of seats that were theoretically the preserve of independents.
Article 3 of the election law, said the SCC, is incompatible with articles 5 and 28 of the Constitutional Declaration, issued in March 2011, which state that all candidates must enjoy equal rights when contesting parliamentary elections. It added that, "the election law gave an unfair advantage to party-based candidates at the expense of independents and violated the principle of equality."
Constitutional law experts mostly agree with the SCC's conclusion that the People's Assembly must now be dissolved. The SCC noted that while the five-month-old assembly must be disbanded, any legislation it passed would remain in force unless it, too, was judged unconstitutional.
The SCC's ruling should have come as no surprise, says Al-Ahram political analyst Amr Hashem Rabie. It was the Muslim Brotherhood, he points out, that in the face of opposition from secular parties exerted pressure on the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to begin the process of democratic transition by holding parliamentary elections before a new constitution was in place. The Brotherhood then pressed SCAF to scrap its draft law, which reserved 50 per cent of seats for independents and 50 per cent for party-based candidates, in favour of a two thirds allocation of seats for party-based candidates. "Legal experts immediately warned that such an arrangement was unconstitutional, yet the Brotherhood continued pressing its demands and SCAF not only responded, but agreed that the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), along with other parties, be allowed to field candidates in independent seats."
Yet rather than concede that the dissolution of parliament came as a result of its own domineering tactics, the Brotherhood insists the SCC's judgement is politicised.
"The Brotherhood's position is unlikely to convince the many Egyptians who now see that its tactics differ little, if at all, from Mubarak's now disbanded NDP," says analyst Hassan Abu Taleb. "The Brotherhood exerted pressure to ensure the election laws served its interests. They resulted in a Brotherhood-dominated parliament that within months confirmed people's impression that the Islamists were as bad as the NDP, their appetite for power as voracious, their willingness to secure it by tailoring unconstitutional laws to serve their needs as glib."
Parliamentary elections should never have been permitted without a new constitution in place, says Abu Taleb. Now that the People's Assembly has been dissolved Abu Taleb argues the "Islamists will no longer be able to impose their religious agenda on the constitution even if their candidate, Mohamed Mursi, is declared president".
"The Brotherhood lost the bulk of its influence after parliament was dissolved. If Mursi is elected he will be a lame-duck president."
On Friday the secretariat-general of the People's Assembly received an official letter from SCAF saying MPs were no longer allowed to enter the People's Assembly. On Monday Mahmoud El-Khodeiri, chairman of the dissolved parliament's legislative affairs committee, and his deputy Mohamed El-Omda, were prevented from entering the building. They said they had been instructed by the speaker of the dissolved parliament, Saad El-Katatni, to review the SCC's orders.
On Sunday El-Katatni argued neither the SCC nor SCAF had the authority to dissolve "a freely elected parliament".
The People's Assembly was due to discuss the 2012/2013 budget on Tuesday. "Now," says Abu Taleb, "it is up to SCAF, currently Egypt's main legislative authority, to ratify government plans."
The fate of the Shura Council -- the upper consultative house -- remains in the balance. "The law which brought about the dissolution of the People's Assembly could also hit the Shura Council," says Abu Taleb. "If any lawyer decided to file an appeal before the administrative court demanding the Shura Council be dissolved the court would accept it and refer it to the SCC."
The Shura Council is a largely toothless body. It does, however, retain ultimate authority over the state-owned media.