Egypt's military ruler has ordered the dissolution of parliament, an official said, in line with a court ruling which Islamists who dominate the assembly condemn as a coup by the generals who took charge when Hosni Mubarak was ousted.
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The Supreme Constitutional Court declared the lower house election invalid on Thursday, dissolving a body seen as one of the few substantive gains from a messy and often bloody transition to democracy overseen by the army.
An official in the speaker of parliament's office told Reuters on Saturday that a letter had been sent a day earlier by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi ordering parliament dissolved and saying no member should be allowed to enter the building.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which secured the biggest bloc of seats in a vote that ended in January, warned of "dangerous days" ahead and said the political gains of the revolt that toppled Mubarak on February 11, 2011 could be wiped out.
The Brotherhood said parliament should only be dissolved by a popular referendum. The order to dissolve the assembly "represents a coup against the whole democratic process", the group said in a statement on the Facebook page of its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).
The FJP said in another statement that the decision showed the military council's desire to "take possession of all powers despite the will of the people".
"We are asking for the people to be the ones who decide that the parliament gets dissolved, as such a decision should be taken by the people's will and not the executive authority," FJP deputy leader Essam el-Erian told Reuters.
Some critics have compared the dissolution to the start of Algeria's civil war in 1992, when its army cancelled an election an Islamist party was winning. The Brotherhood renounced violence as a means to achieving political change in Egypt decades ago.
The constitutional court also ruled to overturn a law passed by the Islamist-led assembly that would have blocked Ahmed Shafik, a former military officer and Mubarak's last prime minister from a presidential run-off vote on Saturday and Sunday.
Shafik is competing against the Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsy.
Voting in the election was proceeding calmly, with no reports of major violations from independent monitoring groups on the first of two days when Egypt's 50 million eligible voters can cast ballots.