UPDATE 1-Egypt judicial council to oversee referendum

Tom Perry and Marwa Awad
Reuters Middle East

* Supreme Judicial Council to oversee vote, says Mursi


* Any boycott by judges threatens plebiscite's credibility

* Mursi sees constitutional referendum as way out of crisis

CAIRO, Dec 3 (Reuters) - Egypt's Supreme Judicial Council

has cleared the way for a referendum on a new constitution which

President Mohamed Mursi hopes will end a political crisis that

has split the country.

Some judges had called for their colleagues to shun the Dec.

15 plebiscite, which must be supervised by the judiciary like

all elections in Egypt. But the council's decision suggests

enough officials can be mobilised to oversee the vote.

"The Supreme Judicial Council has met and agreed to delegate

judges to oversee the constitutional referendum," Mohamed

Gadallah, a legal adviser to Mursi, told Reuters on Monday.

State media also reported the decision of the council.

Gadallah said about 10,000 members of the judiciary are

needed for the monitoring. These do not all have to be judges

and could include officials in prosecutors' offices for example.

"This moves Mursi closer to credible judicial supervision of

the referendum but probably will do little to reassure his

opponents of the legitimacy of the process, beginning from the

formation of the constitutional assembly," said Elijah Zarwan, a

fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Judicial dissent has complicated the Islamist leader's

effort to end the crisis over Egypt's political transition by

driving through a new constitution in a snap vote in a drafting

assembly dominated by his Islamist supporters.

The influential but unofficial Judges Club had called on

Sunday for a boycott of the referendum which Mursi hopes will

douse anger over a decree he issued on Nov. 22, expanding his

powers and temporarily putting himself above judicial review.

Such a boycott, even if not all judges joined it, could

undermine the credibility of the plebiscite and worsen disputes

that have plagued Egypt's path to political change since a

popular revolt overthrew Hosni Mubarak nearly 22 months ago.

The judiciary, like Egyptian society at large, is split over

the vote on the constitution, the way in which it was drafted

and Mursi's decree, seen by his opponents as a power grab and by

his supporters as necessary to keep the transition on track.

There was no direct comment from the judicial council, the

body which formally oversees judicial affairs.

Many judges voiced outrage at Mursi's decree, which caused

unrest in which three people were killed and hundreds wounded.

Even his justice minister and vice president - brothers who were

formerly respected judges who advocated judicial independence in

Mubarak's time - have expressed misgivings.

The opposition has called for another mass protest on

Tuesday in Cairo's Tahrir Square, the cradle of the anti-Mubarak

revolt. Mursi's opponents have camped out there since Nov. 23.

Some activists plan to march to the president's office.

Several independent newspapers will not publish on Tuesday

in protest at what they call Mursi's "dictatorship".


The constitution, which if approved would override the

decree, is itself contested by opposition groups who say the

Muslim Brotherhood hijacked the drafting of a document they say

has no legitimacy in a deeply polarised society.

"Settling this matter using the ballot box is an

illegitimate trick representing false democracy," liberal

opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei said on Twitter.

The Judges Club boycott call carries echoes of Mubarak's

days, when independent-minded sections of the judiciary refused

to oversee elections unless he enacted judicial reform.

However,, one leading figure in that campaign for judicial

independence, former Judges Club head Zakaria Abdel Aziz, said

the judges had a "national duty" to oversee this referendum.

"A lot of judges called me and they are heading in the

direction of supervising the referendum," he told Reuters.

"The head of the Judges Club is pushing in the direction of

scorched earth," he said. "He and some of those that support him

have pulled the judges into a political battleground."

Ahmed el-Zind, who now heads the Judges Club, has staunchly

opposed Mursi's decree, taking the side of the former prosecutor

general, a Mubarak-era appointee sacked under its provisions.

"We will not supervise a referendum that slaughters the

nation's rights," Zind told Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper on

Monday. Zind's critics say his enthusiasm for an independent

judiciary only became apparent after Mursi took office.

The Judges Club recommendation for a referendum boycott by

judges is not binding. Its earlier call for a judicial strike

against Mursi's decree saw partial success, with the Cassation

Court and Egypt's highest appeals court ceasing work.

On Sunday, the Supreme Constitutional Court, the highest in

the land, followed suit, complaining that Mursi supporters

outside its headquarters were intimidating the judges.

The court had been due to hear cases contesting the legality

of parliament's Islamist-led upper house and of the assembly

that wrote the constitution, which was handed to Mursi on


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