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Egypt's military dissolves parliament as voting begins

Egyptians began voting in the final election run-off that pits a prominent member of the Muslim Brotherhood against a former prime minister of Hosni Mubarak.

CAIRO // Egypt’s ruling generals officially dissolved parliament yesterday as millions went to the polls to vote in a presidential run-off.

The decree by the military council chief Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi also banned MPs from entering the building.

The order follows a ruling by the constitutional court on Thursday that electoral law governing last winter’s election was unconstitutional and a third of the results, which gave Islamists an overwhelming majority, were invalid.

Essam Al Erian, the deputy head of the dominant Freedom and Justice party, said parliament received a notice from the military-appointed cabinet saying Field Marshal Tantawi declared the house dissolved.

Meanwhile Egyptians began voting yesterday in the final election run-off that pits a prominent member of the Muslim Brotherhood against a former prime minister of Hosni Mubarak.

Voting took place in an atmosphere of uncertainty and fatigue. The election, which continues today, was meant to be the final round of voting before the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf), the group of generals in control since Mubarak resigned last year, handed power to a civilian government.

But after the court ruling on Thursday, democratic transition is likely to stretch for many more months.

The judges, appointed by Mubarak, ruled a third of the parliamentary elections unconstitutional. The ruling means a commission appointed by parliament to rewrite the constitution is also likely to be scrapped.

The military is expected to assume legislative power and appoint a new commission or issue its own draft constitution, taking the country back to where it started after Mubarak stepped down.

“This day should have been happier, but it seems that this not yet the end,” said Ahmed Taha, an engineer resting in the shade near a polling station in the Khalifa section of Cairo near the historic Citadel.

He voted for Mohammed Morsi, chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, because he “is a scientist and will finally bring Islamic law to our country”.

Mr Morsi is opposing Ahmed Shafiq, who is seen by supporters as a strong hand to stabilise the country and by critics as the candidate who will restore the Mubarak regime and end the revolution.

Voter turnout yesterday appeared lower than the first round of elections in May, especially as the temperature rose under a scorching midday sun. There were reports of minor irregularities at polling stations, but monitors said on the whole they were as free and fair as previous rounds of voting. Some revolutionary groups have called on voters to boycott the elections or purposefully nullify their votes in a bid to discredit what they see as illegitimate elections under military rule.

Despite the dizzying consequences of the constitutional court judgment, many voters said they still hoped that a new president could bring stability after 16 months of uncertainty.

“The revolution was the dream of my life, but we don’t want to be stuck in this in-between phase forever,” said Jihad Ahmed, 36, a taxi driver who voted for Mr Shafiq.

He argued that a strong president was the solution to the debilitating power struggles between Islamists, revolutionary groups, the military and members of Egypt’s old guard. That parliamentary elections would probably be held again was a relief, he said, because the Islamist-dominated People’s Assembly had proved it was unable to make life better for Egyptians.

“This is the only thing we care about,” Mr Ahmed said. “We want better jobs, better wages, better health care, better education. It doesn’t matter who does this, as long as they do it.”

Many Egyptians who chose to vote yesterday said the election was not as polarising as it seemed, with each candidate’s ideology less important than their ability to manage the Arab world’s most populous country and steer the economy back from the brink of collapse.

“What we wanted during the revolution was the ability to choose the president,” said Amr Amrash, 23, a student of social work at Cairo University in a queue at a polling station in the Sayeda Zaineb section of the capital.

“These elections prove we got what we wanted. Now, we need a strong manager to take control. The best candidate is Shafiq.”
The Freedom and Justice Party was dealt the biggest blow by the court judgments on Thursday. It controlled nearly 50 per cent of the seats in parliament, but will be left with no official power when parliament is officially dissolved.
Party officials said Mr Morsi’s campaign had become an existential issue for the group.

Adel Hamid, who was elected as a member of parliament for the party, said the military in collaboration with judges and former members of the now banned National Democratic Party were facilitating a coup against the people of Egypt.

What happens after elections finish tonight is unclear because of the whirlwind court decisions last week. The new president will be sworn into office with ambiguous powers because there is no new constitution and the military has effectively become the legislative branch in place of parliament.

Mr Shafiq, who is considered the preferred candidate of the military, is likely to find Scaf a willing partner in stabilising the country but the revolutionary and Islamist groups that were involved in the protests against Mubarak last year may return to the streets to oppose his election.

bhope@thenational.ae

twitterFollow The National on @TheNationalUAE & Bradley Hope on @bradleyhope

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