CAIRO (AP) — Hundreds of police and troops backed by armored vehicles set up a security ring around Egypt’s highest court ahead of a ruling Thursday on the country’s presidential election and the legitimacy of its Islamist-dominated parliament.
The Supreme Constitutional Court, housed in a Nile side structure resembling an ancient Egyptian temple, is expected to rule on whether Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, can contest the presidential runoff vote on Saturday and Sunday against Islamist Mohammed Morsi.
The two finished as top vote-getters from the first round of the election last month. The two-man race has polarized the nation, with many viewing Shafiq as an extension of the authoritarian Mubarak regime. Many also fear that Morsi will inject more religion into government and curtail freedoms if he wins.
Also on Thursday, the constitutional court will also decide whether to uphold a lower court’s verdict that the law that organized recent parliamentary elections was unconstitutional. If upheld, the legislature could be dissolved.
The troops, in full combat gear, and police kept several hundred protesters gathered outside the court at bay. The protesters chanted slogans against Shafiq, whose law-and-order platform has resonated with many Egyptians frustrated by the chaos engulfing much of the country since Mubarak’s ouster by a popular uprising 16 months ago.
“Shafiq, you scum, the revolution will continue,” they chanted.
Thursday’s rulings are fueling already heightened tension ahead of the weekend presidential vote.
Egypt’s Justice Ministry on Wednesday gave military police and intelligence agents the right to arrest civilians over a wide range of suspected crimes, including “resisting authorities” and disrupting traffic. The move sparked charges that the generals who took over from Mubarak wanted to extend their grip on power after handing over to civilians.
The decision would remain in effect until a new constitution is in place, something that could take anywhere between several months and a year or more.
On Tuesday, the Islamist-dominated parliament voted on an assembly to draft the document, but liberals boycotted the session. An earlier panel was disbanded by a court ruling and the present one already is challenged in court.
Both times liberals charged that Islamists were unfairly dominating the panel.
The ruling generals have been blamed for mismanaging the transitional period, killing protesters, torturing detainees and hauling at least 12,000 civilians for trial before military tribunals. They deny any wrongdoing and insist that they have no wish to stay in power.
On Thursday, the military took the unusual step of sending convoys of army vehicles to roam parts of Cairo with patriotic songs blaring from large speakers. Some of the vehicles had posters plastered on their side depicting a western man in combat fatigues carrying a blond toddler, with “the army and the people are one hand” inscribed.
They also distributed leaflets urging Egyptians to take part in the weekend election. On the other side of the leaflet is an image of the Giza Pyramids and long lines of voters from earlier elections.
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