CAIRO — As Egyptians returned to the polls Saturday in sweltering heat to decide between two runoff candidates for president, the ruling military council officially dissolved Parliament, cementing its grip on the government and casting a pall over what was supposed to be Egypt's first-ever chance to freely elect its leader.
Instead, the Supreme High Election Commission, which is in charge of elections, late Saturday affirmed the decision of the head of the military council, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, to break up Parliament after a court ruling last week that one-third of the legislative body had been elected illegally. Both the court and commission consist of appointees of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and the decision came just as voters were choosing a leader for the last remaining branch of government not officially in military or the former regime's hands.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which had dominated the Parliament, called Tantawi's announcement illegal and demanded a referendum on whether Parliament should be dissolved. It was the latest in a series of legal and political moves by Egypt's dueling powers that have polarized and dispirited the nation.
Gone was the jubilation of last month, when Egyptians picked among 13 candidates in the first round of presidential elections. A patina of resignation and fear hung over the process on the first of two days of runoff voting as many voters said that despite the uprising that toppled Mubarak 16 months ago, the state created by Mubarak remains largely intact.
Many called the process that led to the runoff a "game." Turnout was reported to be low, particularly among young people and pro-revolutionary parties, as the choice on the ballot was between two conservatives: Mubarak's former prime minister and the apparent frontrunner, Ahmed Shafik, and the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate, Mohammed Morsi. The winner is slated to be sworn in July 1.