The Supreme Constitutional Court, whose judges had been appointed by ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, ruled on Thursday that the country's parliament is invalid and must be dissolved – a move the Muslim Brotherhood is calling a "coup."
"The makeup of the entire chamber is illegal and, consequently, it does not legally stand," the 18-member court said regarding one-third of the seats in the lower parliament.
The court also ruled that Ahmed Shafiq could run in this weekend's historic presidential elections; rejecting a law passed last month that barred prominent leaders under the Mubarak regime from running for elected office. Shafiq had been appointed prime minister during Mubarak's time in office.
Islamists from the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party have a strong presence in the Egyptian parliament, controlling just under half the seats. The parliament has been in session for a little over four months, following three months of elections that started in November.
Senior leaders from the party are calling the Supreme Constitutional Court's decision to dissolve parliament a "full-fledged coup."
"This ruling means that the next president will work without institutions," said Sobhi Saleh of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Thursday's decision is also being criticized by experts as "anti-democratic."
"From a democratic perspective, it is the worst possible outcome imaginable," Shadi Hamid, research director of the Brookings Doha Center told The New York Times. "The democratically elected Parliament was the biggest step in Egypt's transition, and this casts the entire transition into doubt. It is an anti-democratic decision."
The news comes as Egypt is slated for landmark run-off elections between Shafiq, who enjoys support from Egypt's ruling military council, and the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi.
The election has caused division and skepticism among Egyptian revolutionaries who believe a victory for Shafiq would cause a return to Mubarak-style rule, whereas they fear a Morsi victory would turn Egypt into an Islamist state and put the rights of women, minorities, and political activists in jeopardy.
The Muslim Brotherhood will meet Thursday evening to discuss whether to protest the court's decision and whether to withdraw Morsi from this weekend's presidential race.
Shafiq, on the other hand, welcomed the rulings as "historic."
"We will never, ever from now on humiliate the laws," he said. "The constitutional court...undoubtedly proved that Egypt is a country that depends on constitutions and institutions and no authority can think that it can act unilaterally."