Cairo: In their latest face-off with Egypt`s Islamist rulers, the country`s top council of judges decided on Wednesday to suspend its participation in a government-backed judicial reform conference following a renewed push by lawmakers on a controversial bill that would force thousands of their colleagues into retirement.
The Supreme Judicial Council said in statement published by the state news agency MENA that it was backing out of the "Justice Conference" expected for later this month. It had been sponsored by Egypt`s Islamist President Mohammed Mursi, and judges were supposed to come up with a plan to remake their institution.
frequently with the judiciary since becoming president last summer. Mursi`s allies say Egypt`s judiciary is filled with supporters of ousted president Hosni Mubarak, who have worked to undermine the transition to democracy and the Islamists` rise to power. Judges say Mursi has tried to interfere in their affairs and curb their independence, with an eye to control them.
The crisis over the judiciary is the latest of many challenges facing Mursi, who faces a weakened economy and opposition from a wide range of mostly secular-leaning groups.
Mursi`s backers say the opposition is stirring up unrest to undermine his rule, while his opponents say Mursi, who was elected with 51 per cent of the vote, has failed to live up to his promises of being inclusive and ignored the goals of the uprising against the longtime autocratic ruler Hosni Mubarak.
Many judges already had reservations about the conference, citing mistrust between them and the president and his Islamist allies.
The new bill, proposed by Islamist lawmakers last month, has sparked uproar. One of its most controversial clauses drops the retirement age for judges from 70 to 60. This would affect nearly a quarter of the country`s 13,000 judges and prosecution officials, most of them in senior positions, including in Egypt`s Supreme Constitutional Court.
The Council said in its brief statement that the decision followed moves by Mursi`s Islamist allies to resume debating the law, which "contradicts the requirement of convening the conference."
The council said it had consulted with the country`s top courts and judges before taking the decision in an emergency meeting. There was no immediate comment from the President`s office.