CAIRO — An Egyptian court on Wednesday ordered the suspension of parliamentary elections scheduled to begin in April, opening a legal battle likely to delay the vote and deepening the political crisis between the Islamist president and his opponents that has polarized the nation for months.
The new confusion about the election underlined the paralysis gripping Egypt, between political deadlock, infighting among state institutions, a faltering economy, and a wave of protests, strikes, and clashes against President Mohamed Morsi and his ruling Muslim Brotherhood.
In the Suez Canal city of Port Said, scene of heavy clashes between protesters and police that have left six dead since Sunday, the violence entered a fourth day, dragging in the military. Protesters hurled stones at police firing tear gas, as army troops tried to keep the two sides apart.
Morsi’s Islamist supporters and some in the public exhausted by the turmoil have viewed the parliamentary elections as a step toward stability, accusing the opposition of stirring up unrest to derail the voting. But the mainly liberal and secular opposition had called a boycott of the vote, saying Morsi must first find some political consensus and ease the wave of popular anger. Whether or not the opposition boycotts, the Islamists probably would win a parliamentary majority.
The new court ruling is unlikely to defuse the tension, bringing the dispute into the judiciary, which has repeatedly been used by the various sides in Egypt’s political battles.
The Cairo administrative court ruled that the Islamist-dominated Parliament had improperly pushed through a law organizing the elections without allowing the Supreme Constitutional Court to review it to ensure it conforms with the constitution. The court ordered that the law be referred to the constitutional court and the election suspended . The court annulled a decree by Morsi calling the election.
Morsi’s opponents pointed to the ruling as further proof of their accusations that Morsi and his ruling Muslim Brotherhood are mismanaging the country, trying to dominate power without reaching consensus with others or abiding by the law.
Morsi’s legal adviser, Mohammed Fouad Gadallah, said the government will respect the court decision to suspend the election and refer the law to the constitutional court.
In the meantime, authorities will delay the opening of the application period for candidates, which had been scheduled to begin Saturday, Gadallah said. That could push back the entire election process. The multiphase election was supposed to begin April 22 and last for nearly two months.
Gadallah also said the state would appeal the administrative court ruling. The aim of the appeal would be to establish the right of the president to call the elections, which the court called into question by annulling the decree.