Middle East

Egypt top court begins strike as anger mounts

Anti-Mursi judges gather at Tahrir Square in Cairo November 27, 2012. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

CAIRO: Egypt's top judges began an open-ended strike on Monday as anger mounted over a power grab by President Mohamed Morsi and a new constitution drafted by an Islamist-leaning council.

Opposition groups and parties said they will rally outside the presidential palace and in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Tuesday in protest against the new charter and a popular referendum on it set for December 15.

Egyptian expatriates will begin voting on the constitution ahead of time, starting on Saturday when embassies will extend their opening hours, foreign ministry spokesman Amr Roshdy said.

The Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) suspended its work indefinitely due to "psychological and material pressure" following a protest Sunday by Morsi supporters which judges said prevented them from delivering a key ruling.

The judges, many of whom remain from the era of toppled dictator Hosni Mubarak, had been due to examine the legality of the panel that drafted the new charter following a boycott by liberals, leftists and Christians.

It was also to look into the legality of the Islamist-dominated senate, the only remaining elected legislative body after the court dissolved parliament on a technicality.

The press threw its weight behind the mounting protests against Morsi, with an editorial in daily Al-Shuruq printing: "Beware -- fascism is coming."

"When Islamist protesters surround the SCC headquarters and prevent judges from entering, know that the seeds of a fascist state have been sown," it said of the demonstrations that menaced judges.

Eleven independent and opposition party newspapers have declared they will not go to print on Tuesday.

On Sunday, the Judges Club which represents judges nationwide said it would not oversee the December 15 referendum on the new constitution, as it had done in past elections to ensure legitimacy.

Meanwhile Egypt's embassies and consulates will extend their opening hours starting on Saturday "to give the opportunity to expatriates to participate in the referendum" ahead of the main vote.

The move is the latest in a string of protests against Morsi who on November 22 issued a decree expanding his powers and rushed through the adoption of the draft constitution at the heart of a political and ideological battle in Egypt.

The Islamist president's decree also stripped any judicial body of the right to annul the constituent assembly and senate.

The draft constitution has been criticised for failing to protect key rights and allowing a stricter interpretation of Islamic law.

Morsi's supporters accuse the judges of being elitist holdouts from the Mubarak era and of standing in the way of public support for the Islamists expressed in repeated votes since the strongman's ouster early last year.

Morsi's deputy, Mahmud Mekki, insisted in an interview with state television that the president did not plan to "abuse" the constitutional decree and wanted the transitional phase to end as quickly as possible.

Morsi and his supporters have repeated that his new sweeping powers are temporary pending the ratification of the charter by public vote.

A senior Islamist who helped draft Egypt's new constitution, Amr Darrag, attacked the constitutional court as "highly politicised" and told AFP in an interview that liberal opponents had been unwilling to compromise on the charter.

The standoff has polarised opinion and sparked the biggest political crisis since Morsi assumed power in June as the country's first ever civilian president and elected leader since Mubarak's ouster in a popular uprising.





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