Egypt's supreme constitutional court rocked the country late last week with an act of political audacity. It ruled that Egypt's 2011-12 parliamentary elections were unconstitutional and that former President Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, is eligible to run for president.
The ruling damages the prospects of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, which had won the largest number of seats in the legislative elections, in the presidential vote this weekend. Its candidate in the runoff, opposing Mr. Shafiq, a former general, is Mohamed Morsi. He could still win, but if he does he would have to govern the country without a parliament until new elections are held.
The court judges were all appointed by Mr. Mubarak. The big winner from their ruling is the Egyptian military, who clearly intends not to give up its grip on power regardless of the demand for democratization in the Arab Spring.
The military, led by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, seized power, ostensibly to avoid chaos, in the wake of the popular overthrow of Mr. Mubarak last year. The military then postponed the writing of a new constitution, which was supposed to precede elections.
Nevertheless, legislative elections and the first round of the presidential contest took place. Now the court has dissolved the new parliament and military leaders are left in power, as they have been since 1952, with no constitution or parliament to check their authority.
Although the United States professes to support democratization, it continues to provide $1.3 billion in annual aid to Egypt's armed forces. Last March, Washington considered withholding the aid until an elected civilian government was in place. That idea was scrapped when the military government said it would be unable to pay U.S. arms manufacturers Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics unless the aid continued to flow.
Now Egyptians and the United States face the real prospect that the drive toward elective democracy will be scrapped. That outcome would be shameful as well as dangerous.