Egypt judges halt work, boycott Mursi referendum
Cairo: In the biggest political crisis in post-Mubarak era Egypt, the judiciary and President Mohammed Mursi continue to be at loggerheads with judges refusing to oversee the national referendum called for Dec 15 on the draft constitution.
Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court has halted its work "indefinitely" after Mursi’s supporters, backing his Nov 22 “Constitutional Declaration” blockaded the court building, preventing the judges from ruling on the legitimacy of the body that drew up the constitution.
The judges were to decide on whether to dissolve both the commission that drafted the new Constitution and the Shura Council, the upper house of parliament.
The judges on Sunday postponed their ruling on that case just before they went on strike.
Mursi's controversial Constitutional Declaration prohibits the nation's courts, including the constitutional court, from making any ruling concerning the work of the commission or the Shura Council.
The Judges Club, a union with 9,500 members, said late Sunday that judges would not, as customary, oversee the national referendum Mursi called for Dec. 15 on the draft constitution hammered out and hurriedly voted on last week.
The strike by the Supreme Constitutional Court and opposition plans to march on the presidential palace on Tuesday take the country's latest political crisis to a level not seen in the nearly two years of turmoil since Hosni Mubarak's ouster in a popular uprising.
Judges from the country's highest appeals court and its sister lower court were already on an indefinite strike, joining colleagues from other tribunals who suspended work last week to protest what they saw as Mursi's assault on the judiciary.
The entire controversy was triggered when Mursi issued decrees on Nov 22 giving him near-absolute powers that granted himself and the Islamist-dominated assembly drafting the new constitution immunity from the courts.
The constitutional panel then rushed to vote on the charter's 236 clauses without the participation of liberal and Christian members.
The fast-track hearing pre-empted a decision from the Supreme Constitutional Court that was widely expected to dissolve the constituent assembly.
Without a functioning justice system, Egypt will be plunged even deeper into turmoil. It has already seen a dramatic surge in crime after the uprising, while state authority is being challenged in many aspects of life and the courts are burdened by a massive backlog of cases.
Supporters of Mursi, who hail from the Islamic fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, claim that the court's judges remain loyal to Mubarak, who appointed them, and accuse them of trying to derail Egypt's transition to democratic rule.