DAVID GREENE, HOST:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And I'm Renee Montagne. Egypt's transition to democracy has taken a blow, one so serious that opposition forces are calling it a coup. The country's Supreme Constitutional Court yesterday issued two rulings. One dissolved Egypt's first freely elected parliament, now filled mostly with Islamists. The other threw out a law that forbade members of ousted president Hosni Mubarak's regime from running for high office.
That cleared the way for Mubarak's last prime minister to challenge the Muslim Brotherhood candidate in a run-off that begins tomorrow. Many in Egypt worry that this now sets up a battle for power between the country's ruling generals and the main Islamist party, the Muslim Brotherhood. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Cairo and joins us for the latest. Good morning.
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: And Soraya, the Muslim Brotherhood does have the most to lose, given they held nearly half the seats in parliament and they're fielding this candidate in the run-offs. What are the Muslim Brotherhood leaders saying about what happened?
NELSON: Well, their leaders are incredibly angry, but it's clear they also hope to spur voters to turn out tomorrow and cast a retaliatory ballot, if you will. So it's really a power play between the Brotherhood and the military. But American University in Cairo's history department chairman Khaled Fahmy describes what's happened as a dangerous escalation.
KHALED FAHMY: Any attempt to reach a deal to divide the pie, so to speak, between them has reached an impasse and now this is an all-out war between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood.
NELSON: Fahmy and others worry that the confrontation will grow violent if the Brotherhood is unable to strike a deal with the military or win power in this election that's coming up. And there's also the youth groups who feel that they have lost the revolution and they may just take to the streets.
Of course, this week the military also passed a law that allows military police officers and intelligence agents to arrest civilians as they see fit. So it's really very, very tense right now.
MONTAGNE: Well, and also this is a one-two blow because in dissolving parliament, this high court, which has judges appointed by Mubarak, is allowing Mubarak's former prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, to run for president, and that had been against the law.
NELSON: Yeah. And it's even more convoluted than that. The head of the presidential election commission also happens to be the head of this high constitutional court that made the rulings. And he had made it clear from the beginning that they wanted Ahmed Shafiq to run, that he had filed his paperwork before this ban or attempted ban by parliament was passed, and so, you know, he's gotten a green light.
And it's something that's made a lot of people angry, but it's also important to remember that a lot of Coptic Christians and others do support Shafiq. They're very concerned about the rise of the Islamist power.
GREENE: So is this, as some are saying, a coup by this military-led government?
NELSON: Well, that's certainly the word that's being used by many people on the streets and also by many analysts. As you mentioned, these courts have Mubarak-era judges in them and nothing gets done around here without the ruling generals.
And so it's clear that they're concerned about the Muslim Brotherhood not gaining too much power, even when the military rulers step down next month, as they claim they will. They want to make sure they retain control over key policies, key budgets, including their own, and basically have the final say in things.
MONTAGNE: So preparations for this runoff election that begins tomorrow are still underway, but what are Egyptians in the street saying to all of this?
NELSON: Well, Shafiq supporters are ecstatic, and again, that includes many Christian Copts who feel very concerned about the Islamists here. But many are also feeling very stunned and angry. They feel that they've been played by the military. We talked to 22-year-old restaurant owner Nahla Abdel-Nasser, who says she wasn't surprised.
NAHLA ABDEL-NASSER: Because I know it's a game and it was expected, by the way. For me it was expected.
NELSON: So she and others say the signs were there all along, whether it's the battle over the new constitution which the military wants written a certain way so that it maintains power, or even the results of the presidential election in the first round in which key candidates were eliminated on technical grounds and Shafiq emerged as a surprise second place finisher.
MONTAGNE: Soraya, thanks very much.
NELSON: You're welcome, Renee.
MONTAGNE: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson speaking to us from Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.