Egypt high court stops work after ‘blackest day’

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Egypt’s highest court has suspended its work indefinitely to protest “psychological and physical pressures” after supporters of the country’s Islamist president prevented judges from entering the courthouse yesterday to rule on the legitimacy of a disputed constitutional assembly.

The court’s decision is the latest turn in a worsening political crisis pitting president Mohammed Morsi and his Islamist allies against the mostly secular opposition. The stand-off began when Mr Morsi issued a package of decrees on 22 November that gave him sweeping powers and extended immunity from the courts to a panel tasked with drafting a new constitution.

The Islamist-dominated panel then raced in a marathon session last week to vote on the new charter’s 230 clauses without the participation of liberal and Christian members.

The fast-track hearing pre-empted a decision expected from the court on whether to dissolve the committee – a ruling the judges have now postponed.

Mr Morsi at the weekend announced a referendum on the draft charter for 15 December, despite opposition protests and questions about the document’s legitimacy.

“It is the Egyptian judiciary’s blackest day on record,” the court said in a statement carried by the official MENA news agency.

Supporters of Mr Morsi, who hails from the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, claim that the court’s judges are loyalists of fallen president Hosni Mubarak and are trying to derail the country’s transition to democratic rule.

The court statement said the judges approached the court but decided against entering the building because they feared for their safety.