EGYPT’S highest body of judges has condemned Islamist president Mohammed Morsi’s decision to grant himself near-absolute power.
In a statement, the Supreme Judicial Council said the move was “an unprecedented assault on judicial independence.
Morsi’s declaration last week places his decrees beyond judicial review until a new constitution and parliament is in place, a process which is expected to take several months.
Their condemnation of the president’s edicts are the latest blow to Morsi, whose decision on Thursday set off a storm of controversy and prompted tens of thousands of people to take to the streets in protest on Friday.
Through their statement, the judges join a widening list of leaders and activists from Egypt’s political factions, including some Islamists, who have denounced the decree.
The Supreme Judicial Council is packed with judges appointed by jailed former president Hosni Mubarak. It regulates judicial promotions and is chaired by the head of the Court of Cassation.
Their move reflects a broad sense of anger within the judiciary. Some judges’ groups and prosecutors have already announced partial strikes to protest Morsi’s decree.
Morsi has accused pro-Mubarak elements in the judiciary of blocking political progress. In the last year, courts have dissolved the lower house of parliament as well as the first panel drafting the constitution, both led by the president’s Muslim Brotherhood group.
The edicts Morsi issued mean that no judicial body can dissolve the upper house of parliament or the current assembly writing the new constitution, which are also both led by the Brotherhood. Supporters of Morsi feared that the court might in fact dissolve one of these bodies, further postponing Egypt’s transition to democracy.
They say Morsi has a mandate to guide this process as Egypt’s first freely elected president, having defeated one of Mubarak’s former prime ministers this summer in a closely contested election.
The judges’ council’s stand against the president sets the ground for an uneasy alliance between former regime officials and activist groups that helped topple Mubarak’s regime and have in the past derided those officials as “felool,” or remnants.
Morsi’s opponents nonetheless see the judiciary as the only remaining civilian branch of government with a degree of independence, since the president already holds executive power and as well as legislative authority due to the dissolution of parliament.
The judges released their statement following an emergency meeting yesterday. They said Morsi’s decision is an “unprecedented assault on the judiciary and it rulings” and called on the president to “distance himself from the declaration and all things that touch judicial authority, its specifications or interference in its members or its rulings”.
The primary court in Alexandria and the judges’ club there announced they and public prosecutors have suspended all work until the declaration is withdrawn, according to the Egyptian state news agency, Mena.