Christians in Egypt welcomed today’s court decision to dissolve the Islamist-controlled parliament due to election irregularities.

The decision offered hope for Christians, many of whom were convinced the country was about to be handed over to Islamists who would stifle religious freedom and persecute non-Muslims.

“Christians are happy, because they were afraid the Muslim Brotherhood was taking over the parliament,” said Athanasious Williams, a Coptic Christian human rights lawyer in Egypt and a leader within the Egyptian Social Democratic Party. “But now they feel that there might be a better chance for a secular government.”

In the 2011-2012 elections for the People’s Assembly of Egypt, political parties competed for two-thirds of the body’s total 508 seats. Candidates unaffiliated with any political party, also known as “farmers” or “workers” candidates, competed for the rest.

In reality, many of the “independent” candidates ran as party members. On Thursday, the Supreme Constitutional Court in Cairo ruled that the independent candidates who had been sponsored by political parties had been seated unconstitutionally. The entire assembly will be dissolved.

The results of parliamentary elections shocked many Christians throughout Egypt, with parties affiliated with Islamist groups winning 71 per cent of the seats in the People’s Assembly.

An increase in attacks against Christians and church buildings after the Jan. 25-Feb. 11, 2011 revolution, combined with the ever-changing rhetoric from the Islamist parties on the subject of Islamic law, had caused anxiety among Christians in Egypt fearful that they would be relegated to second-class citizens at best if hard-line Muslims took power.

Along with the decision to strike the parliament, the court also ruled to allow Ahmed Shafik, the last prime minister of former President Hosni Mubarak’s regime, to continue running for president. Shafik, despite his connection to the old regime, is seen by many Christians as a preferable option to Mohamed Morsy, the candidate fielded by the Muslim Brotherhood. The two-day presidential election will start on Saturday (June 16).

The court ruling does not guarantee that the Islamists won’t regain power through another parliamentary election. Samia Sidhom, managing editor of Watani newspaper in Cairo, said the Muslim Brotherhood is skilled at manipulating public opinion and could use the ruling to their favor.

“They are very good at playing the victim,” she said. “How they will be able to exploit this, we will have to see.”