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Egypt's upper parliament ruled illegal, but allowed to stay

CAIRO — Egypt's highest court on Sunday ruled that the Islamist-dominated upper house of parliament is unconstitutional — but allowed it to remain until future elections are held.

The decision ends the legal uncertainty hanging over the country’s political transition, but does little diffuse tension between the ruling Muslim Brotherhood and mostly secular opposition groups.

However, it illustrates the willingness of Egypt’s judiciary to challenge the Muslim Brotherhood on constitutional matters.

The upper house of parliament, known as the the Shura council, was elected as a consultative assembly with just a 7 percent voter turnout according to Reuters, and has angered the opposition by stirring up various controversies since it assumed legislative powers in December.

These include a new civil society law criticized by human rights groups and the West as a threat to democratic freedoms, and proposals for judicial reform that are fuelling tensions between judges and Islamists who see the judiciary as hostile.

The Supreme Constitutional Court decided the Shura council is illegal but that it should keep its lawmaking role until the main lower house can resolve similar legal questions over its status.

Those questions are unlikely to be answered except by a fresh round of elections, for which a date has yet to be set.

Gaber Nassar, constitutional law professor at Cairo University, said; “Whatever laws were issued before by the Shura council are legal but now the only thing the Shura council can now do is issue laws related to electing the new parliament.  The Shura will be dissolved as soon as new parliamentary elections are held.”

Mohamed ElBaradei, a leading opponent of the Brotherhood, was quoted by Reuters as describing Sunday’s ruling as "an expected result of a low-level understanding and political thuggery that has toppled the concept of legitimacy and the rule of law."

Reuters contributed to this report.