Egypt's High Court Suspends Sessions after Protesters Block Judges from Entering
Egypt's high court calls Sunday a 'dismal, black day' in the history of the country's judiciary
Reza Sayah and Amir Ahmed CNN
December 02, 2012
CAIRO (CNN) -- Egypt's high court is indefinitely suspending all its sessions after supporters of President Mohamed Morsy surrounded the building and blocked judges from entering.
Calling Sunday a "dismal, black day in the history" of the country's judiciary, the court said in a statement that its judges will not return to work until they can do their jobs "without any psychological or physical pressures."
"The judges of the Supreme Constitutional Court have no choice but to declare to the great Egyptian people that they are unable to perform their sacred mission in light of the current charged situation," the statement said, according to the state-run MENA news agency.
It was the latest salvo in a growing crisis that pits Morsy and his conservative Islamist allies against liberal, secular opponents, raising fears among observers that the political strife could translate to violence in the streets. At least one person died and 66 were injured Saturday in clashes at protests, both for and against Morsy, according to MENA.
Sunday's protest by the president's supporters forced judges to postpone ruling on the legitimacy of the body drawing up the nation's constitution and a separate but related decision about whether to dissolve the Shura Council, Egypt's upper house of parliament.
The scheduled court session was widely viewed as a challenge of Morsy, who ignited a political maelstrom on November 22 when he declared his past and future decisions were immune from judicial oversight.
Morsy said the powers are a necessary and temporary until a new constitution is adopted.
But that promise has done little to quiet the opposition who says Morsy's actions are reminiscent of those taken by now-ousted President Hosni Mubarak. It led to protesters to reoccupy Tahrir Square, the scene of the Arab Spring uprising that saw Mubarak ousted in 2011.
Anger only grew when the Islamist-dominated Constitutional Assembly pushed through a draft despite the objections of a secular opposition, including some members who walked out in protest.
But Morsy and his political allies may have reason to be worried given steps taken by the the military council that ruled Egypt after Mubarak's ouster. The council has previously dissolved parliament's lower house, which was populated with a number of Islamist lawmakers loyal to Morsy, because it said the elections were unconstitutional. When Morsy said he would call back the lower house, the high court upheld the dissolution.
On Saturday, Morsy said a constitutional referendum will be held on December 15, an announcement that saw tens of thousands of protesters -- for and against Morsy -- take to the streets.
The Supreme Constitutional Court has indicated it will review the proposed constitution, though it is not clear, if they rule it invalid, if that will prevent the referendum.
Following Morsy's announcement, there was at least one sign that his move signaled progress: The Egyptian stock exchange rose by nearly $5 billion pounds ($8.2 million) -- or by 2.5% -- in 15 minutes following the news of a constitutional referendum.
Essam El-Erian, a senior Morsy adviser, has insisted all viewpoints -- including the need to safeguard freedoms when it comes to things like gender and religion -- were taken into account in the drafting of the constitution. But critics are unconvinced.
A quick glimpse at the constitution's articles show language dealing with individuals' civil rights, particularly how security forces and the justice system treats them.
There is wording prohibiting arbitrary arrest and detention and ensuring due process, a sensitive topic in Egypt. Mubarak and his supporters are blamed for jailing and harshly mistreating innocent people in the years before and especially during last year's uprising.
While many of the articles sound democratic, the fine print indicates otherwise, some human rights advocates say.
"Moving a flawed and contradictory draft to a vote is not the right way to guarantee fundamental rights or to promote respect for the rule of law," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
The preamble includes language pertaining to women, saying they are equal to men, but it also accentuates their role as mothers.
The United Nations' high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, has urged Morsy to reconsider the draft, saying a number of measures contained in it are incompatible with international human rights law.
CNN's Chelsea J. Carter contributed to this report.
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