Court strikes as Cairo crisis deepens

Top judges pledge not to return to work until President Morsi rescinds his sweeping powers

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 November, 2012, 4:31am


Egypt yesterday plunged deeper into its worst political crisis since Islamist President Mohamed Mursi took office, with a top court going on strike to protest against his decision to grant himself sweeping powers.

But as protests mounted, a panel drafting the new constitution wrapped up its deliberations and readied for a vote on the text to be put to voters, panel chief Ahmed Darrag said. Reports said the panel would vote on the draft today morning. It will subsequently be put to a referendum.

A Muslim Brotherhood official who declined to be named also said a quick conclusion of the constitutional process could offer a way out of the crisis, because the decree would be overridden by the new constitution.

Earlier judges of the Cassation Court decided in an emergency meeting that they will not return to work until Mursi rescinds his decrees, according to state TV. The country's lower appeals court also decided to stop work.

The move followed a defiant statement by the Supreme Constitutional Court that rejected charges made by Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood that it is working to bring down his government.

"We did not find the Constitutional Court's statement of simply condemning President Mursi's decree enough," Cassation Court vice-chairman Abdel Nasser Abu al-Wafa said after its meeting yesterday. "We are deciding on the next step after suspending work."

This pushes Mursi further into a corner, after crowds poured into the streets on Tuesday to denounce a decision they see as a dictatorial. Early yesterday, police fired tear gas early into Cairo's Tahrir Square, where hundreds of protesters spent the night after the mass rally.

Clashes that erupted on streets just off Tahrir, near the US embassy, spilled into the square, with canisters falling into the crowd forcing protesters to run and sending clouds of tear gas over the tents housing the demonstrators.

The outskirts of the square have seen sporadic skirmishes for nine days since a protest was begun to mark the one-year anniversary of deadly confrontations with police in the same area.

Clashes also raged through the night between supporters and opponents of Mursi in the Nile Delta city of Mahalla and the canal city of Port Said.

In Mahalla, 132 people were injured while 27 were hurt in Port Said, medical sources said. According to a security official, calm in both towns had been restored by morning.

Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists called for a rally on Saturday to support Mursi, a Brotherhood official said.

Mahmud Ghozlan, a senior Brotherhood member and spokesman, said the rally would be held in Cairo, after the movement had cancelled a mass demonstration that would have coincided with opposition protest.

Tuesday's huge turnout for a protest rally in the iconic square in the heart of Cairo, as well as in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria and most of Egypt's 27 provinces, marked the largest mobilisation yet against the president.

"The revolution returns to the square," headlined the state-owned daily Al-Akhbar. And in a bold front-page headline, the independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm said: "Revolution to save the revolution."

Protesters are furious at the decree that Mursi announced last Thursday allowing him to "issue any decision or law that is final and not subject to appeal", which effectively placed him beyond judicial oversight.

The move helped consolidate the long-divided opposition with leading dissidents, former UN nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei and ex-Arab League chief Amr Mussa, uniting with former presidential candidates in the face of Mursi and the powerful Muslim Brotherhood.

The Brotherhood and the secular-leaning opposition had stood side by side in Cairo's Tahrir Square in 2011 as they fought to bring down Hosni Mubarak and his regime.

But since the strongman's downfall in February last year, the Islamist movement has been accused of monopolising politics after dominating parliament - following vows not to field candidates for a majority of the seats - and backtracking on a promise not to nominate a presidential candidate.

Additional reporting by Reuters, Associated Press