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Egypt gears up for presidential runoff

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A few dozen people went to Tahrir Square to protest, but Cairo was largely quiet on Friday [EPA]Egyptians will go to the polls on Saturday to vote in a presidential runoff, an election mired in controversy after the supreme court dissolved parliament and the country's military rulers re-asserted control over the legislative process.

The election, which will continue on Sunday, pits Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate, against Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister under deposed president Hosni Mubarak. The two men placed first and second, respectively, in the first round of voting last month.

Both men made a final pitch to voters on Thursday night. Morsi tried to portray himself as the candidate of the revolution, while Shafiq promised stability.

Whichever man wins, he will take office amid a great deal of uncertainty. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) formally moved to dissolve parliament on Friday, and told MPs they were not allowed to re-enter the building.

The Muslim Brotherhood, whose Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) controls the largest bloc in parliament, has said it will not immediately accept the court's ruling. Saad al-Katatni, the parliament speaker, plans to hold a session next week to discuss the decision.

'Fully-fledged coup'

The high court ruled that some provisions of the electoral law, which allowed political parties to compete with independent candidates for some seats, violated the constitution.

The ruling invalidated the 508-member People's Assembly, chosen during a six-week election which began in November. It also voided the constitutional assembly which members of parliament agreed to last week and appointed on Tuesday.

SCAF said it will announce its own assembly next week.

The ruling was a blow to the entire transition process, but perhaps most of all to the Brotherhood, which controlled nearly half of the People's Assembly.

Mohamed el-Beltagy, a senior FJP politician, called the rulings a "fully-fledged coup" on his Facebook page.

The Brotherhood issued a statement late on Thursday night warning that the court's decision would undo the gains of the revolution and push Egypt into "dangerous days".

'Political decision'

The court also ruled that Shafiq was eligible to stand in the election; he was initially barred from running by the "political isolation" law passed earlier this year, which barred ex-regime officials from running for public office.

The court dismissed the law as unconstitutional.

Morsi has been under pressure from Egypt's liberals to declare the election illegitimate and withdraw from the race.

But Nader Omran, a spokesman for the FJP, said in an interview that he would continue his campaign despite concerns over the rulings.

"It's a political [decision], not a judicial one," said Omran.

"We have to go on with the elections, we have to not give any chance for the counter-revolution[ary] powers … Shafiq will not win a free and fair election, never."

'Electing an emperor'

The next president will take office without a clear mandate - there is no constitution spelling out the powers of the president - and without an elected legislature.

SCAF announced on Thursday that it would assume lawmaking powers after parliament's dissolution. And on Friday, the generals said they would manage the budget as well, according to Al-Ahram.

Earlier this week, the justice ministry issued a decree allowing the military to arrest civilians for a range of crimes, further empowering the military and raising comparisons with the country's recently scrapped emergency law..

"I think that in the coming days, weeks, SCAF will issue what we call a supplementary constitutional declaration by which it will try to further specify the powers of the new president," said Mazen Hassan, a legal scholar at Cairo University.

Many Egyptians have taken to calling the events of the last week a "coup."

Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Prize-winning former diplomat and onetime presidential hopeful, called the situation a travesty.

"Electing a president in the absence of [a] constitution and parliament is electing an emperor with more powers than [the] deposed dictator," he said on Twitter.


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