Egypt’s historic presidential run-off at the weekend has been thrown into chaos after a senior court ruled that parliamentary elections in January were unconstitutional.
The country’s supreme court ruled that some of the regulations under which it was held were illegitimate, rendering the result invalid.
The court says the lower house should be dissolved, which would prolong the presidential process, as it is parliament that sets the constitution by which the president will operate.
The ruling increases tensions ahead of the second – and final – stage of the country’s first free election of a president this Saturday and Sunday, which pitches Mohammed Mursi, of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, against former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq, who is regarded as the last remnant of the old regime.
Mr Shafiq was cleared to stand in the weekend election by a second Supreme Court ruling on Thursday, which rejected a law denying political rights to officials of the old guard, which operated under disgraced former president Hosni Mubarak.
It means a representative of the regime that was brought down in last year’s uprising will provide Egyptians with an alternative to a man who symbolises the new Egypt – which has not been without its own problems.
However, whether either man will have a parliament to work with is now in grave doubt.
The supreme court declared that a third of the seats won in the three-month election that began last year were “illegitimate” because of the voting systems used to elect party representatives and individuals.
Many of those who benefited were members of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is the largest party in the new parliament.
One of the presidential candidates ousted at the first stage said that dissolving parliament would amount to a “complete coup”.
But a spokesman for the Brotherhood, Mahmoud Ghozlan, said it would accept the ruling. “It’s a reality now, and we must deal with it as such,” he said.
The news was less well received on the streets, with a group of protesters throwing stones at troops guarding the courthouse as boxes of tear gas were unloaded.
Mr Shafiq was a surprise choice to reach this weekend’s presidential showdown, given his key role under Mr Mubarak.
He was a beneficiary of an election which “squeezed” the moderate vote, pitting him into direct competition with Mr Mursi, the last-minute choice of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood movement.
It leaves Egyptian voters with a choice of supporting a man from the regime that was ousted by a popular uprising or backing one which has been blamed for a chaotic interim period, and which has been losing support since last January’s parliamentary elections.