CAIRO - Egypt’s newly elected Parliament could be dissolved, the presidential election may have to be abandoned, and the country’s new constitution has yet to be drafted.
Sixteen months after Hosni Mubarak was swept out of office by a popular uprising, Egypt’s political future is tangled in a thick web of court cases and bitter public squabbles. How everything is straightened out will be the difference between an end to military rule by July 1 as scheduled or a return to square one of a turbulent transition, a scenario certain to unleash a fresh wave of turmoil and bloodshed.
“Court decisions will raise a million questions,’’ said Sobhi Saleh, a lawmaker from the Muslim Brotherhood, the fundamentalist group that stands to lose the most if Parliament is dissolved and a Mubarak-era prime minister is confirmed as the one going head-to-head against its uninspiring candidate in a presidential runoff vote. “What we are seeing now is political messiness.’’
The vexing mix of politics and law comes less than two weeks ahead of the presidential vote between Mubarak’s last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, and the Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi June 16-17. A winner will be declared June 21. Morsi and Shafiq were the top vote-getters in a field of 13 candidates from the first round of voting last month. Already, Egyptians living abroad have started voting in the runoff.
However, a growing number of activists are embracing calls for canceling the entire election, despairing of the prospect of either the Brotherhood or a diehard of the old regime ruling the country. Mohamed ElBaradei, the nation’s top reform leader, is one of them.
“Egyptians are not ready for elections when they are divided,’’ the Nobel Peace laureate and former head of the UN nuclear watchdog told reporters Tuesday. “Elections should be the final stage of democracy, which we don’t yet have.’’
Only two days before the election, the Supreme Constitutional Court will consider two cases that could potentially throw everything topsy-turvy once again.
In one, it is reviewing a lower court’s ruling that the law organizing parliamentary elections late last year was unconstitutional. If the court agrees, the current legislature - where the Brotherhood is the biggest party, with nearly half the seats - would be disbanded and Egyptians would have to go back to the polls to choose a new one.
The other case is whether Shafiq can stay in the race. The court is to rule on the validity of a “political exclusion’’ law passed by Parliament banning many former regime figures from running for office. If it backs the law, Shafiq would have to drop out and the presidential election might have to start again from scratch. Thousands of protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square every day this week demand the law be enacted to exclude Shafiq.
Egypt’s transition to democratic rule has been tempestuous since army generals, led by Mubarak’s defense minister for 20 years, took over from the ousted leader in February last year. The country has taken one bad hit after another: deadly protests, a sliding economy, crime surge, and alleged rights abuses by the military.
Adding another layer to the uncertainties is Mubarak’s sharply deteriorating health after his sentencing last week to life in prison along with his former security chief.
Security officials at Torah Prison, where Mubarak, 84, is held, said the former president was suffering from high blood pressure, breathing problems, and depression. He had to be given oxygen throughout the night and until Thursday morning, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Mubarak had been held in military hospitals from the time of his arrest in April last year up until his sentencing.
One sign of political progress came Thursday when the generals and 22 political parties, including the Brotherhood’s, agreed on how to select the 100-member panel to draw up a new constitution, resolving a three-month deadlock on the issue.
On Tuesday, the military had threatened to issue its own blueprint for the panel unless an agreement was reached within 48-hours - a step that would have further inflamed accusations that the generals are trying to dominate the process.