x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Egypt court to decide runners in divisive poll runoff

Egypt Elections: Egypt's top court was today reviewing a law that could bar one of the hopefuls in a tense presidential election runoff, in a new twist to an already tumultuous transition from Hosni Mubarak's rule.

CAIRO // Egypt's top court was today reviewing a law that could bar one of the hopefuls in a tense presidential election runoff, in a new twist to an already tumultuous transition from Hosni Mubarak's rule.

The Supreme Constitutional Court was looking into the legality of the political isolation law which bars senior officials of the Mubarak regime and top members of his now-dissolved National Democratic Party from standing for public office for 10 years.

The law applies to those who served in the 10 years prior to Mubarak's ouster on February 11, 2011 after an 18-day popular uprising.

If approved, the legislation will mean disqualification for Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak's last prime minister, who faces Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Mursi in a runoff on Saturday.

Outside the court in the south Cairo neighbourhood of Maadi, around 100 protesters -- surrounded by police -- chanted slogans against Shafiq, demanding the application of the law.

"The people want the exclusion of the remnants of the old regime," the demonstrators shouted.

At today's hearing, the court will also examine a High Administrative Court appeal over the constitutionality of aspects of a law governing parliamentary elections between November and February that saw Islamists score a crushing victory.

The ruling military, which took power when Mubarak was toppled, decided on a complex electoral system in which voters cast ballots for party lists, that made up two thirds of parliament, and also for individual candidates for the remaining third of the lower house.

The individual candidates were first meant to be "independents" but members of political parties were subsequently allowed to run for those seats, giving the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party an advantage. That decision is being challenged in court.

If the voting system is found illegal, Egytians will have to elect a new parliament.

"I reject Shafiq and Mursi, and if the court lets Shafiq stand or if there is a referendum on Mursi, we will go back to Tahrir," the epicentre of protests that toppled Mubarak, said writer Samara Sultan, 30, outside the court.

"We want the court to fix the parliament and the only way to do that is to repeat (the election)," she said.

Ahmed Said, a filmmaker from Cairo, said parliament was "full of people who use religion and don't care about Egypt. We need people who can make a new Egypt.

"The elections were a fraud and we need the court to order them to be repeated. Shafiq is like Mubarak and we will never accept him," he said.

Mr Shafiq was initially barred from standing in the election in accordance with the law passed by the Islamist-dominated parliament in April.

But in late April the electoral commission accepted an appeal from Shafiq against his disqualification and the case was referred to the court.

Today, the Supreme Constitutional Court will first examine whether the electoral body had the right to refer the case, and if so, will then look into the legality of the text.

The hearing comes just two days before the landmark presidential election runoff to choose a successor for Mubarak.

In the first round of voting on May 23-24 -- which saw 13 candidates compete for the top job -- Mursi won 24.7 percent of the vote, slightly ahead of Shafiq's 23.6 percent.

The race has polarised the nation between those who fear a return to the old regime under Mr Shafiq's leadership and those wanting to keep religion out of politics and who accuse the Muslim Brotherhood -- which already dominates parliament -- of monopolising power since last year's revolt.

The next president will inherit a struggling economy, deteriorating security and the challenge of uniting a nation divided by the uprising and its sometimes deadly aftermath, but his powers are yet to be defined by a new constitution.