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(CNN) -- Confusion reigns in Egypt after stunning court rulings threw the country's awkward transition toward democratic rule into turmoil.
The decision sparked cries that Egypt's military leaders have engineered a "soft coup" to thwart their longtime foes -- Islamists who just weeks ago captured a majority of seats in the Egyptian parliament in the first election in Egypt in generations. The court's decision dissolves parliament, and the military was quick to say it now controls legislative affairs in Egypt, actions that raised the prospect of renewed mass street protests.
The dizzying developments sent shock waves across Egypt just 16 months after a popular uprising toppled former President Hosni Mubarak and two days before Egyptians go to the polls to elect a new president. They also raised fresh questions among many about whether the military -- long the most powerful force in Egyptian life -- would ever yield power.
"Egypt is entering into a very dangerous stage, and I think a lot of people were caught by surprise," said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center. "We knew it was getting bad, but we didn't think it was getting this bad."
He called the court rulings the "worst possible outcome" for Egypt and said the transition to civilian rule was "effectively over."
In one ruling Thursday, the Supreme Constitutional Court found that the rules governing January's parliamentary elections were invalid, triggering the dissolution of parliament.
The military leadership, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, also announced it would name a 100-strong panel by Friday that will draw up a new constitution for the country.
The moves came only hours after a decree was issued giving the military extended powers of arrest over civilians.
Analysts say the Supreme Constitutional Court is considered partial to the regime headed by Mubarak, in which the military played a pivotal role -- and its perceived failure to maintain judicial independence could spark renewed anger.
"Essentially, no, the court is not neutral," said Steven Cook, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. "It is very much part of the old regime. I think you are going to see people pouring into the streets and demand change."
The "legal coup" pulled off by the military is just the latest front in a long-running battle for dominance between the two sides, he said.
"This has been in the offing for not only months, but for years and years," Fahmy said.
"The events of today and indeed the past few weeks have shown very clearly the determination by SCAF to oust the Muslim Brotherhood altogether, and to deny it serious victories that it had won legitimately through by ballot boxes -- and today is the culmination of that struggle."