Egyptian court suspends work as crisis deepens

Stephanie McCrummen / The Washington Post /


CAIRO — Egypt’s top judges suspended work indefinitely after Islamist supporters of President Mohammed Morsi swarmed the highest court Sunday, chanting “We will not leave!” shouting insults and blocking the judges from entering on the day they had been expected to dissolve the country’s Islamist-dominated constitution-writing panel.

In a statement from the Supreme Constitutional Court that underlined the increasingly personal conflict between Morsi and the judiciary, the judges described a campaign of “moral assassination” against them and said an “environment charged with hatred and malice and the need for revenge” led to Sunday’s “appalling and shameful scene.”

The 19 judges — appointed during the regime of President Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted nearly two years ago — said they would suspend work until they were able to continue “without being subject to moral or physical pressure.”

It was another day in Egypt’s rocky, emotionally charged democratic transition, one in which the revolutionaries who drove out Mubarak are increasingly divided, with Islamists on one side and liberals, secularists — and, increasingly, the judiciary — on the other in the quest to forge a modern identity.

Morsi, who is backed by the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, has been in a power struggle with the judiciary since his election in June. The high court dissolved the democratically elected Islamist-majority parliament just as Morsi was taking office, severely curtailing his power. And the judges had been widely expected on Sunday to dissolve the constitution-drafting assembly, dominated by Islamists.

But Morsi has pushed back hard, issuing a constitutional decree Nov. 22 that places nearly all his actions temporarily beyond judicial review and pushing the constitution-writing panel to approve the nation’s new charter Friday.

Among its many provisions, the charter shrinks the number of judges on the high court from 19 to 11. Despite large opposition protests to his moves all week, Morsi on Saturday called for a Dec. 15 national referendum on the charter, a vote that will require the supervision of the judiciary, which he seems only to be enraging further.