After postponing ruling, Egypt's top court suspends work indefinitely
Published Sunday, December 2, 2012 7:11AM EST
Last Updated Sunday, December 2, 2012 11:13PM EST
Calling it "the Egyptian judiciary's blackest day on record," the country's top court suspended its work indefinitely Sunday, just hours after announcing that its ruling on the legitimacy of a parliamentary assembly would be delayed.
Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court cited "psychological and physical pressures" in its decision to shut down after judges were kept away from the court complex by crowds of protesters.
The demonstrators had camped outside the Cairo courthouse through the night, accusing members of the judiciary of being loyal to the man who appointed them: ousted president Hosni Mubarak.
"The judges of the Supreme Constitutional Court were left with no choice but to announce to the glorious people of Egypt that they cannot carry out their sacred mission in this charged atmosphere," the court said in a statement disseminated by the official MENA state news agency.
The job action means Egypt's top court joins the country's highest appeals court and its sister lower court in indefinite strikes.
So far, most judges and prosecutors across Egypt have been off the job for a week.
Tensions between the judiciary and the government of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi have been running high since he issued decrees two weeks ago granting himself sweeping powers and immunity from the courts.
Following his Nov. 22 declaration, a constitutional panel then held a marathon 16-hour voting session on the new charter's 236 clauses -- without the participation of its liberal and Christian members.
The vote happened so quickly, it essentially pre-empted a decision the Supreme Court had been expected to announce Sunday -- on whether or not to dissolve the Islamist-controlled committee altogether.
Morsi's opponents say the process broke Morsi's election promise also, in which he vowed to put a revised charter to a referendum only after obtaining the consensus of elected lawmakers.
The judges also had been expected to rule on the legitimacy of the Islamist-dominated upper house of parliament, known as the Shura Council.
Both decisions were put off Sunday, with the court citing "administrative reasons" for the delay.
There are now calls within the ranks of the judiciary to keep the job action going until Dec. 15, at least, the date Morsi has called for a referendum on the draft charter.
Because judges oversee voting in Egypt, if they're not on the job the referendum would not go ahead.
If passed in a popular vote, however, the charter would supersede Morsi's recent declarations.
In Cairo, CNN’s Reza Sayah told CTV News Channel that Sunday’s development involving the judiciary dealt a blow to the opposition faction, who now appears to have no political mechanism to block the constitutional process set by Morsi.
“At this point, this seems to have cleared the path for the president and his supporters to get their way,” Sayah said.
Morsi’s position, Sayah said, is that he was elected to establish these democratic institutions when he inherited legislative power.
“And he believes that the best to move the country forward is to present the constitution to the people of Egypt on the Dec. 15 and they can vote for it.”
On Saturday, Morsi signalled his hope that a new constitution would calm the ongoing political crisis gripping Egypt.
"Let everyone -- those who agree and those who disagree -- go to the referendum to have their say," Morsi said.
Opponents argue the charter takes an Islamist approach that could be used undermine human rights, insofar as it does not explicitly underscore women's rights for example.
Two rallies in Cairo's Tahrir square drew as many as 200,000 people to denounce Morsi's moves last week. In a counter-rally attended by an estimate 200,000 people at Cairo University Saturday, pro-Morsi protesters made their presence felt as well.
As the protests and counter-protests continue, investors are showing some confidence in Morsi's ability to steer Egypt. Its main stock market index was up more than 2 per cent at the start of trading Sunday.
With files from The Associated Press