Judges appointed by Hosni Mubarak dissolved the Islamist-dominated parliament Thursday and ruled his former prime minister eligible for the presidential runoff election this weekend -- setting the stage for the military and remnants of the old regime to stay in power.
The politically charged rulings dealt a heavy blow to the fundamentalist Islamic Brotherhood, with one senior member calling the decisions a "full-fledged coup," and the group vowed to rally the public against Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister to serve under Mubarak.
The decision by the Supreme Constitutional Court effectively erased the tenuous progress from Egypt's troubled transition in the past year, leaving the country with no parliament and concentrating power even more firmly in the hands of the generals who took over from Mubarak.
Several hundred people gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square after the rulings to denounce the action and rally against Shafiq, the presidential candidate seen by critics as a symbol of Mubarak's autocratic rule. But with no calls by the Brotherhood or other groups for massive demonstrations, the crowd did not grow.
Activists who engineered Egypt's uprising have long suspected that the generals would try to cling to power, explaining that after 60 years as the nation's single most dominant institution, the military would be reluctant to surrender its authority or leave its economic empire to civilian scrutiny.
Shafiq's rival in the Saturday-Sunday runoff, Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, said he was unhappy about the rulings but accepted them.
"It is my duty as the future president of Egypt, God willing, to separate between the state's authorities and accept the rulings," the U.S.-trained engineer said in a television interview. Late Thursday, he told a news conference: "Millions will go to the ballot boxes on Saturday and Sunday to say 'no' to the tyrants."
Senior Brotherhood leader and lawmaker Mohammed el-Beltagy was less diplomatic, saying the judges' action amounted to a "full-fledged coup."
In last year's parliamentary elections -- Egypt's first democratic ones in generations -- the Brotherhood became the biggest party in the legislature, with nearly half the seats, alongside more conservative Islamists who took another 20 percent. It is hoping to win the presidency as well.
The rulings, however, take away the Brotherhood's power base in parliament and boost Shafiq at a time when the Islamists are at sharp odds with a wide array of major forces, including the military, the judiciary and pro-democracy groups behind the uprising.