Court rules Egyptian upper house is illegal

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Egypt’s top court has ruled that the parliament’s Muslim Brotherhood-led upper house is illegal but can stay on until elections, dealing the Islamists a moral blow but letting them keep their grip on legislating for now.

The ruling deepens the political instability that has gripped the country since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak more than two years ago.

The ruling by the Supreme Constitutional Court yesterday upheld the upper house’s right, as set out in a new constitution, to legislate in the absence of a lower house.

That chamber was dissolved last June following a similar legal challenge. Dates for new elections have yet to be set.

The upper house, elected as a consultative assembly on a seven per cent turnout, has angered the opposition by broaching areas of controversy since it assumed legislative powers in 

These include a new civil society law criticised by human rights groups and the West as a threat to democratic freedoms, and proposals for judicial reform that are fuelling tensions between judges and Islamists who see the judiciary as hostile.

Analysts said the ruling seemed likely to irritate both sides in Egypt’s political conflict: the Islamists would be angry that the chamber’s legitimacy had been rejected, and the opposition would be annoyed that the house wasn’t dissolved.

“If the Shura Council still has legislative authority, then this is a moral blow but not a legal one,” said Nathan Brown, a George Washington University professor and expert on Egypt.

The case against the upper house of parliament, brought by an independent member of parliament, follows a similar challenge that led to the dissolution of the Brotherhood-led lower house last year on the grounds of defects in the election law.

The Supreme Constitutional Court cited election law flaws as the reason for finding the upper house to be illegal. But it said implementation of the ruling should wait given the legislative role given to the chamber by the new constitution.

Mohamed ElBaradei, a leading opponent of the Brotherhood, assailed the court ruling as “an expected result of a low-level understanding and political thuggery that has toppled the concept of legitimacy and the rule of law”.