In Cairo, protesters took to the streets 16 months after an Arab Spring uprising forced Mubarak to step down after three decades of autocratic rule. This month, he was sentenced to life in prison for allowing troops to kill demonstrators and now is severely ill in an Egyptian prison.
The court’s twin blows to the Muslim Brotherhood brought into focus the power struggle between the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the military panel that has been ruling Egypt since Mubarak left office, and the Islamists, who were banned under the Mubarak regime.
The Brotherhood won nearly half of the seats in the parliament in the last election, which started in November and lasted three months.
But the Supreme Constitutional Court undercut its power base by upholding a lower-court ruling that the law governing the parliamentary elections was unconstitutional because it allowed political parties to contest a third of the seats that had been set aside for independents.
The ruling “suggests that the players have largely been outmaneuvered by the military,” Mr. Cook said.
“People are coming to the recognition that this is the way in which the old regime is finally trying to snuff out the revolutionary promise of Tahrir Square,” he added, referring to the site of the Cairo demonstrations against Mubarak.
For three decades, Egypt’s military was a crucial part of the Mubarak regime. When it came to power last year, the military council promoted its role as purely transitional.
Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, council chairman and commander of the armed forces, was a defense minister in the Mubarak regime. He is considered Egypt’s de facto interim president.
A March 2011 constitutional declaration gives the council the power to dissolve the parliament. New elections will have to be held once the parliament is dismissed, but Thursday’s developments have created much uncertainty.
The Obama administration has sought more information from the Egyptians on the implications of the court’s rulings.
At the State Department, Mrs. Clinton said: “There can be no going back on the democratic transition called for by the Egyptian people.
“In keeping with the commitments that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces made to the Egyptian people, we expect to see a full transfer of power to a democratically elected government.”
Emergency law reinstated
“People are going to react very negatively to this,” Isobel Coleman of the Council on Foreign Relations said of the court rulings. “We are at the end of the beginning in the revolution. This is clearly going to go on for a long time.”