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Egypt court delays decision on council legality

Opposition activists demonstrate in show of support for judiciary

Gulf News

Cairo: Egypt’s highest court Tuesday postponed a decision on a lawsuit requesting the dissolution of the country’s Islamist-dominated upper house of parliament or the Shura Council, a case that has triggered a row between the country’s powerful Islamists and the judiciary.

The Supreme Constitutional Court said it would refer the case to a judicial panel to review the case and see how it complies with a new constitution adopted in a contentious referendum last month.

The court also said it would rule on February 3 on another suit pertaining to the legality of an Islamist-led assembly that drafted the constitution.

As the court was holding its first session in more than a month, dozens of activists from the mostly secular opposition encircled the court building in southern Cairo in a show of support.

They formed a human chain and upheld placards reading: “We respect you, Egypt’s judges”; “No to the Brotherhood dictatorship”; and “Down with the rule of the guide,” referring to the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood from which President Mohammad Mursi hails.

Opening the session, the chief judge of the court Maher Al Beheiri said the court is “determined to undertake its mission in accordance with the constitution and law”.

“We cannot forget the wanton siege, which hindered the court from doing its duty,” he added.

In December, thousands of Mursi’s backers surrounded the court building on the day its judges were to hear cases on the legality of the Shura Council and the assembly tasked with drafting the constitution.

The sit-in, which last almost a month, prompted the court to announce the suspension of its sessions. The Islamists ended their protest late last month after the Islamist-backed constitution was approved.

The Shura Council, where Mursi’s Islamist allies have a large majority, was last month given full legislative power until a new legislature is elected.

The same court dissolved in June the lower house of parliament where Islamists held more than two thirds of seats.

Mursi and his allies have repeatedly accused judges of passing “politicised” verdicts.

The new constitution, Egypt’s first since Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow, reduces the top court’s make-up from 19 to 11, allegedly excluding judges who vociferously criticised Mursi’s measures.

Mursi infuriated the secular-leaning opposition and judiciary in November when he temporarily made his decisions beyond judicial oversight. He also fired a Mubarak-era public prosecutor in a way denounced by the judiciary as violating its independence.