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CAIRO: Egypt’s top court suspended its work indefinitely to protest “psychological and physical pressures” after supporters of the Islamist president prevented judges from entering the courthouse yesterday to rule on the legitimacy of a disputed constitutional assembly.
The decision by the Supreme Constitutional Court is the latest twist in a worsening crisis pitting President Mohammed Mursi and his allies against the mostly secular opposition and the powerful judiciary. The standoff began when Mursi issued decrees on November 22 that gave him sweeping powers and granted the president immunity from the courts.
The Islamist-dominated panel drafting the new constitution then raced in a marathon session last week to vote on the charter’s 236 clauses without the participation of liberal and Christian members. The fast-track hearing preempted a decision expected from the SCC on whether to dissolve the committee. The judges yesterday postponed their ruling on that case.
A day earlier, Mursi announced a referendum on the draft charter on December 15 despite opposition protests and questions about the document’s legitimacy.
The Supreme Constitutional Court called yesterday “the Egyptian judiciary’s blackest day on record,” describing the scene outside the court complex, with Islamist demonstrators carrying banners denouncing the tribunal and some of its judges.
Supporters of Mursi, who hails from Muslim Brotherhood, claim that the court’s judges are loyalists of ousted president Hosni Mubarak, who appointed them. Mursi’s backers accuse the judges of trying to derail Egypt’s transition to democratic rule. The court statement said the judges approached the court but decided against entering the building because they feared for their safety.
The judges also had been expected to rule to on the legitimacy of the Islamist-dominated upper house of parliament, known as the Shura Council. By suspending its work, the court joined the country’s highest appeals court and its sister lower court in their indefinite strike to protest what they see as Mursi’s infringement on the judiciary. Most judges and prosecutors in the country have been on strike for a week.
The strikes are indefinite and there have been calls within their ranks to extend their action to a boycott of overseeing the referendum, something that would further question the legitimacy of the entire process. AP