Middle East

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood denounces parliament ban

Voting in Giza - 16 June
Image caption There appears to be less enthusiasm than in previous election rounds

Egypt's leading political movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, has denounced the dissolution of parliament as unlawful.

It described the move as a coup against democracy and urged Egyptians to protect their revolution.

The ruling military council confirmed the dissolution after a court ruling on Thursday that the 2011 parliamentary elections were unconstitutional.

Egyptians are voting over two days to choose a new president to replace Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted last year.

Mohammed Mursi, head of the Muslim Brotherhood's political wing, is up against Ahmed Shafiq, former President Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister.

The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf) has vowed to hand over power to the winner by 30 June.

The decision to dissolve parliament so swiftly means that he could take office without the oversight of a sitting parliament and without a permanent constitution to define his powers or duties.

A 100-member assembly appointed by lower and upper houses of parliament earlier this week to draft the new constitution may also be dissolved.

'People's will'

The top official in parliament, Sami Mahran, said he had received a letter from the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf) confirming for the first time that the lower house, the People's Assembly, had been dissolved.

It follows a ruling from the Supreme Constitutional Court on Thursday that the law governing Egypt's first democratic elections in more than six decades was unconstitutional because party members were allowed to contest seats in the lower house reserved for independents.

Soldiers have already been stationed around the parliament, with orders not to allow in MPs.

The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), which secured the biggest bloc of seats in a vote that ended in January, said the order to dissolve the assembly "represents a coup against the whole democratic process".

"We are asking for the people to be the ones who decide that the parliament gets dissolved, as such a decision should be taken by the people's will and not the executive authority," FJP deputy leader Essam el-Erian told Reuters news agency.

The FJP won some of its 235 seats in the People's Assembly by running candidates for individual seats, as did the ultraconservative Salafist Nour party.

Scaf officials have told state media that it now plans to issue a new interim constitution and potentially select a replacement constitutional panel itself.

The Nobel laureate and former head of the UN's nuclear watchdog, Mohamed ElBaradei, warned that Egypt was suffering under worse conditions now than under Mr Mubarak, and that it was on the brink of allowing a "new emperor" to establish total domination.

Disenchanted youth

After the first day of voting, correspondents say there is less enthusiasm in the two-day run-off election than there was for previous rounds of voting, and some have called for a boycott or spoiled ballots.

There were early queues outside some Cairo polling stations on Saturday, but later they were reduced in some places to just a steady trickle of voters, the BBC's Jon Leyne reports.

Particularly noticeable was the lack of young people voting, our correspondent says.

They seem to be particularly disenchanted with the choice between Mr Shafiq, a candidate seen as a representative of the old regime, and the Islamist Mr Mursi, he adds.

While state TV has been urging people to vote, some activists have been distributing flyers in several Cairo metro stations calling for a boycott.

Mr Mursi's campaign held a news conference on Saturday afternoon in which it said several electoral violations had been reported, and urged voters to report any incidents.

The Muslim Brotherhood has called on voters to "isolate" Mr Shafiq, whom it calls "the representative of the former regime", while Mr Shafiq has said he will restore stability to Egypt.

Mr Shafiq came second in last month's first round, in which turnout among the 52 million eligible voters was only 46%. Official results gave Mr Mursi 24.8% and Mr Shafiq 23.7%.

Voting at 13,000 polling stations, spread across Egypt's 27 governorates, is being held over Saturday and Sunday, from 08:00 (06:00 GMT) to 20:00 (18:00 GMT). Voting on Saturday was extended until 21:00.

Final results from the Higher Presidential Election Commission (HPEC) are due by 21 June, but are expected to arrive much earlier. Partial results from the first round were declared within 24 hours.