The ruling of Egypt’s constitutional court on Thursday was a game changer. Far from being a mere implementation of law, the decision — and reactions to it — shattered the illusion that Egypt’s deeply fragmented political scene can unite around the results of runoff presidential elections scheduled for Saturday and Sunday.

For the Muslim Brotherhood, Thursday’s ruling amounted to a counter-revolution. The movement sustained a double-blow from the constitutional court: In the first part of its ruling, the court dissolved the Brotherhood-dominated parliament on the grounds that a third of its seats were won illegally. In the second part, it allowed the Brotherhood’s rival candidate Ahmed Shafiq to remain in the weekend’s presidential race despite recent legislation that sought to disqualify him as an associate of Hosni Mubarak’s.

Muslim Brotherhood candidate Muhammad Morsi. Prepared to sacrifice his life (photo credit: AP Photo/Ahmed Gomaa)

Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi. Prepared to sacrifice his life (photo credit: AP Photo/Ahmed Gomaa)

“I swear to God that I will sacrifice my life to prevent any attempt to bring back the old regime,” declared Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi in a blunt reference to Shafiq at a press conference late Thursday night.

For the Brotherhood, the ruling was proof that elements of the Mubarak regime still occupy positions of power within the judiciary. Many Egyptians were already suspicious of the judiciary’s seemingly reactionary tendencies, as Thursday’s decision came only days after a criminal court acquitted members of the Mubarak regime on corruption and murder charges. Mubarak’s two sons were also acquitted; the deposed president was sentenced to life behind bars, not death as many expected.

“I swear to God that I will sacrifice my life to prevent any attempt to bring back the old regime,” declared Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi

Despite fears of election manipulation and fraud, the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party called on its supporters Thursday night to flock to the polls on Saturday and Sunday and “protect the revolution of the Egyptian people.”

But the prospect of elections within 48 hours terrified many liberal Egyptians, such as former IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei.

“Electing a president in the absence of constitution and parliament is electing an ‘emperor’ with more powers than the deposed dictator. A travesty,” he wrote on his Twitter page Thursday.

Mohammad El-Baradei suggests postponing the elections (photo credit: Wikipedia/Creative Commons)

Mohamed ElBaradei suggests postponing the elections (photo credit: Wikipedia/Creative Commons)

ElBaradei implored the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to postpone the elections until the public fathoms the new political reality. He suggested appointing a temporary president and an emergency government to draft a new constitution before allowing any elections — parliamentary or presidential — to go forward.

Shafiq, the big winner in Thursday’s decision, appeared both self-confident and magnanimous.

“Today’s decision will enable rapprochement between me and the Brotherhood,” he told the Egyptian press. “I see nothing in my public service that requires my marginalization.”

Shafiq also told establishment daily Al-Ahram that he was surprised by the court ruling on the complete dissolution of parliament, and that he was expecting that only part of the people’s assembly would be dismissed.

But for many, Shafiq — a former air force chief — is nothing but a facade for Egypt’s omnipresent military establishment. In fact, suspicion towards the military ran so high Thursday night, particularly among the youth, that a sense of despair and indifference began to emerge.

“I don’t believe it really matters whether Morsi wins or Shafiq wins,” Emad Dafrawi, a young social activist from Cairo told the Times of Israel. “The military council wants to keep its privileges untouched with no monitoring of its economic activities.”

Hamed, an Egyptian studying in Germany, said the court’s decision was simply a manifestation of the SCAF’s attempt to weaken the Muslim Brotherhood candidate ahead of Saturday’s vote.

“I don’t believe it really matters whether Morsi wins or Shafiq wins.”

“Apart from the people, the strongest entity taking part in the game is the SCAF,” Hamed told the Times of Israel. “They are sure to try everything to make the elections happen and make their candidate win. There are so many things occurring under the table that it is difficult to know what will happen.”

Hamed bemoaned a new decision by the Egyptian Justice Minister Wednesday, allowing military police to arrest civilians over a wide range of suspected crimes until a new constitution is drafted.

A Facebook meme circulated by Egyptians Thursday expressed the growing public sentiment, bolstered by the court ruling, that the army is in Egypt to stay. The text read: “The military will return to its barracks in June? Wrong! the military intends to bring its barracks, its wife and its children and join us at the table.”