CAIRO – A court order to suspend parliamentary elections has been welcomed as a victory for the rule of law in Egypt and a rebuff to recent power grabs by the country’s president, Mohamed Morsi.
The Egyptian Administrative Court ruled Wednesday that elections for a lower house of parliament, scheduled to begin April 22, should be indefinitely postponed. By doing so, they overturned an earlier presidential decree, undermining Morsi's political authority.
The court claims that the Shura Council, which bears legislative powers until a lower house is elected and instituted, made amendments to election law and sent it to the president's office without clearing them with the court.
Opposition groups, represented by the National Salvation Front, welcomed the court’s decision. They had already planned to boycott the elections, calling them anti-democratic and accusing them of being biased in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliated Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).
"We have succeeded in halting elections in order to correct the constitutional shame that has struck our constitution ever since new articles were added without being presented to the constitutional court," Ahmed Mahran, a law professor and Director of the Cairo Centre for Political and Legal Studies, said in a statement.
Mahran said he believed the Shura Council and the presidency had to be kept in check by the power of Egypt's judicial law.
"Those who presume to respect the law, constitution, and judiciary decisions must prove the truth of their allegations," he added.
“To those who think of Egypt as their estate: We will protect Egypt from the pretenders and their perfidy, and continue to confront political thuggery with the law…”
Wednesday’s ruling can be appealed, but the FJP has already indicated it will accept the decision – a move that left many experts questioning whether the group had a change of heart.
Political commentator and publisher Hisham Kassem believes Morsi has been forced to abide by the court's decision in order to save his own future.
Kassem said the president has been raising the political stakes “until it backfired and put him in a corner and it looks like he is going to pay the price for his previous mistakes.”
He added: "Today's newspaper headline reads, 'The Court halts parliamentary election and the presidency respects the process.' That should not be a headline."
In other words, Kassem believes Morsi wouldn’t ordinarily respect rule of law – unless, as he said earlier, it’s to Morsi's benefit.
But some think Morsi’s acquiescence to the court ruling is linked to his meeting last week with Secretary of State John Kerry.
"John Kerry…didn't come [to Egypt] to vacation…but to tap [Morsi] on the head and say 'get your act together, make concessions to the competition, this is not the environment for free and fair elections,'" said Mona Makram Ebeid, a political science professor, Coptic Christian and member of the Shura Council.
"We are still very dependent on the U.S. so I think this was the real message. It came the day after Kerry left," Ebeid added.
But Kassem thinks U.S. leverage is not enough to bail Morsi out of Egypt's growing economic and political quagmire.
"Kerry did speak to him about having to abide by political consensus,” he said. “I do not know whether it had impact, but at this point Morsi is damned, nobody can save him."
NBC News' Charlene Gubash contributed to this report.