Egypt’s highest court ruled on Thursday to allow a former regime loyalist to run in presidential elections starting Saturday and to dissolve both houses of Egypt’s parliament, in verdicts that could add another pressure point to Egypt’s already fraught transition from military rule to democracy.
The verdicts come only two days before run-off elections for Egypt’s next president start on Saturday, and only two weeks before the ruling council of generals had promised to hand over its executive authority to the newly-elected head of state.
The court announced Thursday that a law intended to block the presidential candidacy of Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force general and Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, was unconstitutional, ending weeks of speculation that the 11th-hour ruling might bar Mr. Shafiq from running.
The court also ruled that some parts of a law governing parliamentary elections that took place six months ago were unconstitutional.
According to Ahram Online, a news website owned by the Egyptian government, a constitutional court judge announced that the ruling effectively dissolves both houses of Egypt’s parliament.
Taken together, the verdicts return the military—and the civilian cabinet it appointed—to full authority over the country, unhindered by an elected parliament.
Many activists fear that Mr. Shafiq will allow the military to retain its grip on power if he becomes head of state.
Even before the verdict was announced, the military leadership appeared to be preparing for a violent reaction. The towering constitutional court was surrounded by tanks, armored cars and security personnel on Thursday afternoon, walling off a few hundred protesters who were demanding that Mr. Shafiq be barred from running.
On Wednesday afternoon, Egypt’s ministry of justice endowed the military and intelligence services with expanded powers to arrest and detain people for participating in protests and disseminating media the military finds offensive—a decision that human rights groups said smacked of a return to the draconian justice of the former regime.
Mr. Shafiq’s loyalties to the former regime have made him a target of Egyptian pro-democracy activists and of the Islamist politicians who back his rival, Mohamed Morsi, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party.
The law on parliamentary elections was thought to violate an “equality principle” implied in Egypt’s constitution because it discriminated against independent candidates by allowing them to run for only one-third of the seats in parliament. Meanwhile, candidates aligned with political parties could compete in the two-thirds set aside for party lists as well as the one-third dedicated to independents.