Egyptian Protesters Scare Away Court Judges

Egyptian Protesters Scare Away Court Judges

A group of senior judges in Egypt has halted all work after crowds of protesters surrounded their building, delaying what is set to be a controversial ruling on a new constitution.

They had been due to decide on the legitimacy of an Islamist-dominated panel that drafted the disputed constitution last week.

But the ruling has been delayed "indefinitely" after several thousand supporters of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi gathered outside the Supreme Constitutional Court in Cairo.

The judges said they had been put "under psychological pressure" and the court said in a statement that it cannot work in a "climate filled with hatred".

Officials cited "administrative reasons" for the delay.

The protesters held up placards denouncing the judges and preventing them from entering, and the officials were forced to admit the judges had stayed away due to fears for their safety.

The postponement and protest are part of a worsening political crisis pitting the largely secular opposition and powerful judiciary against Mr Morsi and his fellow Islamists.

In the past, Islamists have assaulted secular politicians, lawyers and activists outside court complexes as judges inside deliberated rulings they anticipated would be against their interests.

In turn, the Islamists say the courts are filled with judges loyal to former president Hosni Mubarak's ousted regime.

The Supreme Constitutional Court ruled in June to dissolve the Islamist-dominated People's Assembly, parliament's lower chamber, on the grounds that a third of its members were illegally elected.

Besides ruling on the legitimacy of the constituent assembly, the court had also been expected to rule on parliament's upper chamber, which is also dominated by Islamists.

A ruling from the court - regardless of which way it goes - would be a direct challenge to Mr Morsi.

Last month he gave himself near-absolute powers, placing himself and the assembly above any oversight, including by the judiciary.

Mr Morsi's decrees caused an uproar among the nation's secular-led opposition.

The Islamist-led constituent assembly fuelled the anger last week when it rushed through a vote on the charter's 230 clauses in an all-night session.

The panel's secular and Christian members have withdrawn from the panel, claiming the process has been hijacked by the Islamists.

But Mr Morsi, who has been in power since June, praised the draft as a giant step towards democratic rule and ordered a nationwide referendum on the document to be held on December 15.

The opposition is now considering a call for civil disobedience to force Mr Morsi to rescind his decrees.

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