Parliamentary Election Canceled, Egypt’s Political Transition Back Into Legal Limbo

A top court on Wednesday canceled pending parliamentary elections and referred the election law to the Supreme Constitutional Court, adding to the mounting uncertainty about a vote that had been scheduled to begin as early as April 22.

The decision once again plunged Egypt’s political transition back into legal limbo, leaving the normally impotent upper house acting as the temporary legislature. It was unclear on Wednesday how long the constitutional court might take to rule or when other authorities might seek to set a new date.

The new legal questions added to doubts about the feasibility of even holding a vote in certain parts of Egypt that are still reeling with street violence, most notably the Suez Canal city of Port Said. At least four civilians and two security officers have died there this week in clashes between the police and protesters.

Dozens of others have been killed in clashes there since the end of January, when a group of local soccer fans were sentenced to death for their role in a deadly riot at a match there last year. Another related verdict is expected this weekend on the culpability of security officers in the same riot, and the anticipation of more violence has put both Port Said and Cairo on edge.

The main anti-Islamist political coalition had already declared that it would boycott the coming elections, demanding the restoration of stability before any vote as well as an overhaul of Egypt’s new Constitution. The coalition’s withdrawal effectively turned the vote into a contest among moderate, conservative and ultraconservative Islamists, while ensuring that anti-Islamists would continue to assail the government’s legitimacy whatever the outcome.

Wednesday’s decision canceling the elections is also the latest in a series of confrontations between Egypt’s prerevolutionary judiciary and its newly elected Islamist leaders, including President Mohamed Morsi. The top administrative court overseeing the executive ruled that, among other things, Mr. Morsi had wrongly declared a schedule for the elections without seeking the formal approval of his prime minister and cabinet.

A spokesman for Mr. Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party, said in a statement that he would respect the court’s decision.

The parliamentary poll faced some legal doubts even before the cancellation. The Egyptian courts have a history of striking down elections after the fact on procedural grounds and ordering the breakup of sitting Parliaments, most recently last spring.

The Supreme Constitutional Court ordered the immediate dissolution of Egypt’s first democratically elected Parliament after the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak, dealing a setback to the Islamists who led the chamber just as they were poised to win the presidency.

To avoid a repeat, the Islamist-led assembly that drafted the new Constitution required the constitutional court to vet the election system before any vote, rather than after. A few weeks ago, the constitutional court again found fault with the initial system devised for this spring’s vote. Parliament rushed through revisions to the law in an attempt to meet the court’s specifications.

But the court was not asked to approve the rushed amendments, leaving open the possibility that it still might again cancel the results after the fact.

Wednesday’s decision at least remedied that uncertainty. The court sent the amended election law to the constitutional court before the vote, which would end the doubts about another judicial dissolution of another sitting Parliament.

New York Times