Egypt's supreme court goes on strike

Mon, Dec 3, 2012, 00:00

The polarisation between Egyptian secularists and Muslim fundamentalists deepened yesterday when the supreme court went on strike in protest against supporters of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, who surrounded the court building to prevent the judges from issuing crucial rulings.

Although there was a heavy police presence, the judges said they found a crowd “closing the . . . roads, climbing the fences, chanting slogans, denouncing [the judges] and inciting the people against them”.

The judges described it as a “black day in the history of the Egyptian judiciary”. They said they could not function in “this charged atmosphere of rancour and hatred” and announced they were “suspending” sessions until they could resume work without “psychological and political pressures”.

Court decisions due

The court was set to proclaim decisions on the constitutionality of the upper house of parliament and the constituent assembly, appointed by the lower house, which was dissolved in June due to breaches of the electoral law.

All three bodies have been dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, to which Mr Morsi belonged, and the ultra-orthodox Salafi Nour Party.

The court was expected to rule that the constituent assembly is unconstitutional because it was appointed by the dismissed lower house.

In a bid to pre-empt the court’s decisions, the constituent assembly hurriedly completed its final draft of the new constitution early last Friday and presented the text to Mr Morsi for ratification. He promptly declared that the constitution would be submitted for a referendum on December 15th.

“I pray to God and hope that it will be a new day of democracy in Egypt,” he said in a televised address to the nation, calling for dialogue.

The influential Judges Club responded by announcing that judges would not supervise voting in the referendum, rendering it unconstitutional.

The crisis began on November 22nd when Mr Morsi decreed the immunity from legal challenge of the upper house and constituent assembly. The judiciary condemned the decree and secular revolutionaries took to the streets demanding that he rescind it.

On Saturday, tens of thousands of his supporters staged counter-demonstrations at Cairo University and across the country, backing the decree and calling for implementation of Muslim canon law, Sharia.

Sharia law

Claiming to represent the majority, they chanted: “The people want God’s Sharia.”

They accuse Mr Morsi’s opponents, including Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei and secular presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi, of being corrupt “enemies of the revolution” and foreign agents.

In the capital’s Tahrir Square, secular liberals have staged an indefinite sit-in to protest against Mr Morsi’s action and the imposition of a constitution criticised by judges, Coptic Christians, secularists and liberals for incorporating conservative fundamentalist demands and failing to guarantee the rights of minorities and women.