CAIRO An Egyptian administrative court on Wednesday ordered the suspension of parliamentary elections scheduled to begin next month, throwing the country's politics deeper into confusion.
The verdict followed over a dozen complaints questioning the legality of the law organizing the elections.
Abdel-Meguid el-Muqanen, presiding judge of the administrative court, said that the law must be reviewed by the Supreme Constitutional Court to determine its conformity to the constitution. Meanwhile, he ordered the suspension and annulment of the presidential decree calling for elections.
Details of the ruling were not immediately available.
The government can appeal the administrative court ruling, but at the least the ruling may cause a delay in the vote. The multi-phase election is due to begin in April 22 and last for nearly two months. The period for candidates to apply was to begin on Saturday, but that likely cannot take place until the legalities are worked out, possibly pushing back the whole process.
The ruling further snarls Egypt's political crisis over the divisions between Islamist President Mohammed Morsi and the mainly liberal and secular opposition. Protests against Morsi and his ruling Muslim Brotherhood have shaken the country for months, and the opposition had called for a boycott of the parliamentary vote.
"As it stands, we don't have elections, even if temporarily," said Negad Borai, a rights activist. "This reinforces the political crisis."
The opposition had opposed the election law, expressing concerns over gerrymandering by the Brotherhood, which dominates the parliament, and complaining it was not consulted before it was drafted.
"We respect court rulings and we don't see any problem with referring the law to the Supreme Constitutional Court," Mourad Ali, a media adviser for the Muslim Brotherhood's party the Freedom and Justice Party, wrote on his official Facebook page.
The parliament sent the draft bill to the constitutional court, which rejected it, asking lawmakers to amend nearly a dozen articles, including the drawing of districts. After some quick revisions, the parliament passed the law.
Plaintiffs argued the revised bill should have been reviewed once more by the constitutional court before it was made law.
At the heart of the legal dispute is an article in the newly adopted constitution that deprives the constitutional court from reviewing election laws after they were passed in parliament.
Bahey Eddin Hassan, head of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights, said the parliament rushed to pass the law without ensuring it had abided by the court's recommendation, effectively violating the spirit of the constitution which gives the court the right to ensure the law is in line with its recommendations.
Hassan said the parliament attitude was disrespectful of the judiciary. He said the legal dispute over the parliament and the law organizing it won't end even if the government wins the appeal.
"This adds, for the tenth time, a new element of uncertainty for Egypt's future steps," he said. "Regardless of whether the elections are held or not, Egypt appears to be heading toward more chaos."