Morsi calls Egypt poll amid prolonged unrest

(Originally published by the Times.)

Evan Hill in Cairo

President Morsi last night called a parliamentary election starting in April, in a move that critics fear is intended to cement the Islamists’ power in Egypt.

The decision reflects the Administration’s desire to finish the long series of votes and referendums that has followed the 2011 revolution and the urgent need for a functioning government that can tackle the country’s economic crisis.

It will inflame opponents, however, who argue that the President has adopted the undemocratic methods of his ousted predecessor, Hosni Mubarak.

According to Mr Morsi’s decree, the elections will begin on April 27 and unfold over four stages. The final round will be in June.

Egypt has experienced violence and soaring prices, fuelling political turmoil. Protests between police and those who accuse Mr Morsi of betraying the revolution have often turned violent and sometimes fatal.

The President issued the decree two days after the Supreme Constitutional Court rejected Parliament’s proposed election law, saying that half a dozen articles needed to be revised. Legislators responded by issuing a new draft on Wednesday.

But major questions about the election remain unresolved, and the full text of the new law has not been made available. The rushed legislation could doom the election to the same kind of legal battle that led the High Court to dissolve the lower house of parliament last summer.

That left Egypt with only the upper house of parliament, or Shura Council, an overlooked body with little authority. Instead of allowing the court to review the second draft of the election law this week, the Shura Council sent it to Mr Morsi, who approved it.

This resembled the events preceding the passage of the constitution in November, when the Muslim Brotherhood pushed it through in one night.

That move set off a wave of protests and civil disobedience. Fearing even wider unrest, Mr Morsi’s Administration has delayed austerity measures demanded by the IMF.

When the new government takes over in the summer, these issues will probably still be unresolved.