An Egyptian court on Wednesday ordered the suspension of parliamentary elections scheduled to begin next month, opening a legal battle likely to delay the vote and deepening the political crisis between Islamist Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and his opponents.
The new confusion surrounding 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 Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood that has spiraled for months.
In the Suez Canal city of Port Said, the 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 struggled to keep the two sides apart.
Morsi’s 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.
However, the mainly liberal and secular opposition had called a boycott of the vote, saying Morsi must first find political consensus and ease popular anger. Regardless of whether the opposition boycotts, the Islamists would likely win a parliamentary majority.
The 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 court ruled that the Islamist-dominated parliament had improperly pushed through a law organizing the elections without allowing the Egyptian Supreme Constitutional Court to review it to ensure it conforms with the constitution. The court ordered the law be referred to the constitutional court and the election suspended in the meantime. It also annulled a decree by Morsi calling the election.
Morsi’s opponents quickly 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 or abiding by the law.
“The mess continues courtesy of epic failure of governance,” prominent opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei said on Twitter.
Morsi’s legal adviser, Mohammed Fouad Gadallah, told reporters that the government will respect the court’s decision.
In the meantime, authorities will delay the opening of the application period for candidates, which had been due to start Saturday, Gadallah said. That could push back the entire election process. The multi-phase election was supposed to begin in April 22 and last for nearly two months.
Gadallah also said the state would appeal the 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.
The opposition had opposed the election law, expressing concerns over gerrymandering by the Brotherhood, which dominates the parliament, and complaining it was not consulted before it was drafted.
In its ruling, the administrative court said parliament had not observed the right of the constitutional court to review the election law, including any revisions in it, to ensure it conforms to the constitution. When the judge read the verdict, lawyers in the court room broke out in chants of “God is great.”
“We are regaining the state back,” a voice in the room called out, a reference to accusations that Morsi had previously defied the judiciary.
On Wednesday, troops moved to clear a sit-in that protesters have been holding in front of the city’s main government complex for weeks. Soldiers took down tents, banners and pictures of civilians recently killed in clashes with police.
Nevertheless, clashes erupted, with protesters hurling stones at police, prompting volleys of tear gas in response. Troops lined up between them, but fighting continued.
“Morsi is the enemy of God,” protesters lined up in front of the troops chanted.