Islamist protesters shut down Egypt’s top court before it can rule on new constitution

Jessica Stanton Contributor
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Egypt’s highest court declared an indefinite strike after supporters of the Islamist president barred the judges from entering the courthouse Sunday, a move the judges described in a statement as a “psychological assassination” of the court.

The protesters effectively prevented the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) judges from ruling on the legitimacy of a committee that drafted the country’s controversial new proposed constitution. The Islamist-dominated constitutional committee drafted the document and voted on it without including any liberal or Christian members.

The constitution draft calls for the “principles of Islamic [Shariah] law” to be the basis of Egypt’s legal system.

The SCC joins the country’s highest appeals court and its sister lower court in their indefinite strike to protest President Mohammed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood member who now governs one of the Arab region’s most important countries. A majority of Egypt’s  judges and prosecutors have been on strike for over a week following a bold power-grab by the president.

Morsi declared in a Nov. 22 decree that he and the constitutional committee enjoyed judicial immunity.

The strike also indefinitely postpones a ruling on the legality of judicial immunity Morsi granted to the Shura Council Egypt’s upper parliamentary chamber.

The SCC judges, who called Sunday “a dark black day in the history of the Egyptian judiciary,” vowed not to reassemble until they could work without “psychological and material pressure.”

Fearing for their safety as they attempted to enter the court Sunday, they lashed out at the Islamist protesters for creating what they called a “climate filled with hatred.”

In an interview with the British newspaper The Guardian, Amr Fathy of the Cairo-based Arab Centre for Judicial Independence blasted the Morsi-aligned protesters.

“What happened at the SCC is an assault on the Egyptian judiciary,” Fathy said. “Surrounding the building and preventing judges from entering when they are due to rule on two important cases is nothing more than an act of aggression and is unacceptable.”

Members of the Judges Club, the nation’s largest association of judges, said late Sunday that they would not perform their typical roles as election supervisors during a constitutional referendum scheduled for Dec. 15.

Tensions have increased in Egypt since Morsi issued his decrees and the Islamist-friendly constitution was drafted. Tens of thousands of opposition supporters have protested in the streets, recreating scenes familiar from the 2011 Arab Spring.

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