The Egyptian Supreme Constitutional Court has suspended its operations indefinitely because of the psychological and material pressures being exerted upon it.
The announcement by the court followed just a few hours after it postponed any ruling on the legitimacy of the newly adopted constitution by an Islamist dominated panel. Earlier, several thousand supporters of President Mohamed Morsi gathered outside the courthouse in Cairo to prevent any judges from entering.
In a statement, the judges said that they cannot work in a “climate filled with hatred,” noting that they could not enter the courthouse for fears of their own safety. The judges were also slated to rule on the legitimacy of an upper house of parliament, the Islamist-dominated Shura council.
Conflict has emerged between the Egyptian judiciary and Morsi ever since he gave himself extended powers on Nov. 22 and ruled that his decisions were immune from judicial oversight. The court, composed of 19 judges, was to decide if the panel that drafted the constitution was legal. Morsi had ruled that the assembly was not subject to the judiciary.
Protesters had blocked off a main road leading to the courthouse and had spent the night camped outside the courthouse. The court expressed its "utmost sorrow and pain" over the "moral assassination of its judges." Both sides in the dispute hardly can occupy the moral high ground. Morsi is acting in a dictatorial manner that Hosni Mubarak might envy. The court judges are leftovers from the dictatorial Mubarak regime and for the most part followed the dictates of Mubarak.
The draft constitution is slated to go to a referendum on Dec. 15. The opposition is placed in a difficult position whether they decide to boycott the referendum or participate in it.
The majority of Egyptians probably support the constitution in spite of its shortcomings from a secularist or liberal point of view. Even if the opposition were to take part in the vote, they could very well lose. If they do not take part, then the referendum will probably pass with a very large majority, giving Morsi the political ammunition he wants and needs.
The draft constitution was rushed through days after Morsi's decree protecting the constitutional assembly from being dissolved by the judiciary. Liberals and Christians in the assembly boycotted the vote. The draft contains provisions that could lead to a strict interpretation of Sharia law and fails to secure key rights for women and religious minorities as well as freedom of speech.
A rally to protest the referendum outside the presidential palace is slated for Tuesday. In all this turmoil, there seems to be no statement from the military, which still retains much power in Egypt.
The court's decision to suspend its operations seems to be a sign that it has backed away from trying to contest or remove Morsi's new powers. Morsi will now simply go ahead with his referendum. However, the court did dissolve the parliament that was elected in the first relatively free elections ever held in Egypt. Perhaps it will rule that the first popularly approved constitution is invalid. Whatever happens, it appears that Egypt is slated for more unrest. Already, protests since Mursi's decree have left three dead and hundreds wounded.
Hassan Nafaa, a professor at Cairo University, said: "The Muslim Brotherhood is determined to go ahead with its own plans regardless of everybody else. There is no compromise on the horizon."
Somewhat surprisingly, the Egyptian stock market rose in response to these events. Morsi is quite willing to work out a deal with the IMF and is favorable to foreign investment in Egypt. Investors perhaps see him as able to restore order. Note that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is saying nothing so far against Morsi.
Mohamed Radwan of Pharos Security, a brokerage firm, said: "The events that took place through the weekend, from the approval of the final draft of the constitution and the president calling a referendum, gave some confidence to investors that political stability is on track."