Egyptian Judges to Boycott Referendum on Islamist-Backed Constitution

Posted December 2nd, 2012 at 10:10 pm (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

An influential group of Egyptian judges says it will not oversee a December 15 referendum on a new constitution, a move that could undermine the legitimacy of the charter supported by the nation's Islamist president.

In a statement published Sunday by state news agency MENA, the Judges Club said its members unanimously agreed to boycott the referendum, a voting process that Egyptian judges usually supervise.

Many Egyptian judges went on strike last month to protest President Mohammed Morsi's decree barring courts from challenging his decisions. The judges of Egypt's top court joined them on Sunday, saying they have suspended their work indefinitely because of what they called “psychological and physical pressures.”

The judges said they were afraid to enter the Supreme Constitutional Court for a Sunday session in the midst of a rally by hundreds of Islamists outside the building. Mr. Morsi's aides said the protest was peaceful. Many Islamists complain that the top court is biased against them because its judges were appointed by Hosni Mubarak, the longtime anti-Islamist president ousted last year in a popular uprising.

The Supreme Constitutional Court had planned to issue rulings that could have dissolved two Islamist-controlled assemblies — the panel that drafted the new constitution and the upper house of parliament.

Islamist panel members adopted the charter Friday, after rushing to finalize it before the court could rule. Christians and liberals boycotted the assembly, accusing Morsi supporters of hijacking the constitution-drafting process.

President Morsi called for the December 15 referendum on the constitution after receiving the document Saturday. The draft boosts the role of Islamic law in Egypt and makes no explicit mention of women's rights. That has led rights groups and liberal Egyptians to fear a potential erosion in civil liberties if it is approved.

Mr. Morsi said his November 22 decree granting himself sweeping powers will expire after the referendum. He has defended the move as necessary to speed up Egypt's transition to democracy. More than 100,000 Morsi supporters gathered in Cairo Saturday for a rally organized by his Muslim Brotherhood movement.

Opposition activists have been holding a rival protest in Cairo's Tahrir Square for more than a week, vowing to remain until President Morsi rescinds his decree, which they see as giving him near dictatorial powers. In a statement Sunday, an opposition coalition called on Egyptians to march peacefully to Mr. Morsi's presidential palace on Tuesday to demand the scrapping of the referendum and the draft constitution.