CAIRO - Egypt's highest court ruled on Thursday that lawmakers in parliament were illegally elected and ordered the Islamist-dominated parliament dissolved, forcing a re-vote.
In a second order, the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled the last prime minister to serve under Hosni Mubarak can stay in the presidential race.
As a result of a third of the legislature being elected illegally, the court says in its explanation of the ruling, "the makeup of the entire chamber is illegal and, consequently, it does not legally stand."
The explanation was carried by Egypt's official news agency and confirmed to The Associated Press by one of the court's judges, Maher Sami Youssef. The ruling means that new elections for all 498 seats in parliament will have to be held.
A statement posted to the Facebook page of former presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh says the rulings amounted to "a complete coup," the Reuters news agency reported.
The law governing the parliamentary elections, held over a three-month period starting in November, was ruled unconstitutional by a lower court because it breached the principle of equality when it allowed party members to contest a third of seats set aside for independents. The remaining two thirds were contested by party slates. The high court agreed with the lower court's ruling.
The Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists have the most to lose from a new vote. The Brotherhood won nearly half of parliament's seats and ultraconservatives known as Salafis won another 20 percent. Many of those seats were among those dedicated to independents.
The second ruling centered on allowing former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq to contest Saturday and Sunday's presidential runoff against the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate, Mohammed Morsi. The court ruled that a law passed by parliament last month banning senior former regime figures from running for office was unconstitutional.
The ruling said the legislation was not based on "objective grounds" and "constitutes a violation of the principle of equality," leading to discrimination on "illogical grounds."
The Brotherhood's popularity has dramatically declined in the six months since parliamentary elections were held. Morsi won only 25 percent of the votes in the first round of the presidential elections last month. Non-Islamists in a field of 13 candidates won more than 50 percent of the votes.
Hundreds of police and troops backed by armored vehicles set up a security ring around the court ahead of the rulings and scuffles broke out immediately after the rulings were issued between anti-Shafiq protesters and the security forces.
Earlier, in the court, Shafiq's lawyer Shawki el-Sayed denounced the so-called "Political Exclusion Law" that banned ex-regime leaders, saying it "smacks of a desire to exact revenge, which undermines the sanctity of the law. It encroaches on freedoms."
Islamist lawmaker Essam Sultan defended the so-called "political exclusion law," saying, "The revolution is in a state of self-defense. Parliament has a right to tailor legislation for one person."
Shafiq and Morsi finished as the top two vote-getters in last month's first round of the election. The two-man race has polarized the nation. The anti-Shafiq camp views him as an extension of Mubarak's authoritarian regime. The anti-Morsi camp fears he and the Brotherhood will inject more religion into government and curtail freedoms if he wins.