12/03/2012, 00.00
EGYPT
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Constitutional court goes on strike as Islamists threaten judges

Courts protest against President Morsi and his Sharia-based constitution. Hundreds of Muslim extremists besiege the Supreme Court building, shouting slogans against the judges. The constitutional court is the last legal rampart that can stop the power of Muslim extremists.

Cairo (AsiaNews) - Egyptian constitutional court judges went on strike yesterday against "pressures and threats from supporters of Islamist president Mohamed al-Morsi, who has been accused of trying to impose a Sharia-based constitution. For the judges, the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists have created tensions that are preventing the Supreme Constitutional Court from examining the constitution adopted on 30 November and the decrees that give the president full powers in this period of transition. Since yesterday, Morsi supporters have besieged the Supreme Constitutional Court, preventing judges from entering their offices. According to local sources, the judges were able to enter the building only with the assistance of security forces.

For Fr Rafic Greiche, spokesman for the Egyptian Catholic Church, these are "crucial days in the country's history," given the increasingly bitter confrontation between Islamists and secular and pro-democracy forces.

Following Saturday's rally of more than 300,000 supporters of President Morsi, pro-democracy parties have announced a march on the presidential palace for tomorrow.

According to local media, hundreds of thousands of people are expected. Members of groups opposed to the hegemony of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists, who are accused of tricking their way into taking over all powers: executive, legislative and judicial.

"From the first days of his mandate, Morsi began an outrageous process of delegitimisation of the legal system, especially against the judges of the Constitutional Court, accused of being too cosy with the old Mubarak regime and of undermining the values of the Jasmine revolution."

"The first break came the day of his inauguration when he spoke to his supporters in his official capacity even before he took the oath of office before the Supreme Constitutional Court. Although he stated several times that he would respect that institution, in the last few months he has challenged the court's rulings."

For the clergyman, Morsi has done everything to favour his party, helping officials connected with the Muslim Brotherhood get ahead, and taking powers above the law. Under the new decrees enacted on 22 November, only Morsi can change or cancel the draft constitution and dissolve parliament.

"The judges are fighting against time to force the president and his followers to take a step back," Fr Greiche explained. "Even though some officials are members of the Muslim Brotherhood, most are against an Islamist stranglehold. The latter control every institution now. For four days, officials have blocked all court hearings and threatened to annul the referendum on 15 December."

Islamists were particularly angered by the attitude of various judges of the Constitutional Court when they questioned the legitimacy of the president's actions and announced yesterday the dissolution of the Senate, after that of the lower house and before that of the constituent assembly.

The judges pushed the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists to put the new constitution on a fast track for approval. A draft proposal is already before the president, despite the fact that the vote was conducted without the presence of pro-democracy parties and representatives of the Coptic Orthodox and Catholic Church, who began boycotting the assembly in late October hoping for an action by the constitutional court. Now Islamists want to stop any action until the referendum on the new constitution is held on 15 December.

In a press release, Morsi has pledged that he would give up some of his powers once the constitution is approved. If the yes camp wins, Egypt will became a confessional state, no longer based on Shariatic principles, as was the case under Mubarak, but on precise Qur'anic rules. The power to decide the validity of a sentence could thus go from judges to Muslim scholars.

In addition to adding explicit references to Islamic law, the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists have also a number of confused articles on state and its citizens' security of the, which could be used to legitimate authoritarian or unpopular actions.

Article 30 for examples guarantees protection to citizens but also the right of police to conduct inspection without a warrant in particular situations; however, it does not define the latter.

Article 43 protects freedom of religion and the construction of places of worship but it does not refer to laws or rules.

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