Cairo: Egypt’s key judicial union has said judges will not supervise this month’s referendum on a constitution, in a new move signalling a deep crisis between the country’s judiciary and the Islamist President Mohammad Mursi.
“Egypt’s judges have agreed not to oversee the referendum on the constitution so long as the so-called constitutional declaration issued by President Mohammad Mursi remains in place,” Ahmad Al Zend, the head of the independent Judges’ Club, said late on Sunday.
He was referring to Mursi’s decree broadening his powers and making all his decisions and laws exempted of judicial oversight. The decree has sharply divided Egypt and triggered protests from the opposition, which has called it a “coup against legitimacy and democracy”.
“The judges are not engaged in politics, but they defend the state of law and repulse aggression on the judiciary,” said Al Zend, hours after Egypt’s top court suspended its work indefinitely after thousands of Mursi’s supporters encircled it.
Relations between the Islamist president and the judiciary have been strained since he took office in late June. Mursi, Egypt’s first elected Islamist president, ordered in July the reinstatement of the lower house of parliament dissolved by the Supreme Constitutional Court. He later backed down.
Last month, he issued a decree striping courts of the right to dissolve the upper house of parliament and an Islamist-controlled assembly writing the new constitution. Mursi has said the measures are temporary until the constitution is approved and the parliament is elected. He set December 15 for the public vote on the constitution, condemned by the opposition as flawed.
The opposition has called for anti-Mursi marches nationwide on Tuesday when 11 independent and opposition newspapers said they would not appear to protest the president’s decree.
Mursi’s backers, meanwhile, have called on him to assign the supervision of the referendum to other professionals than the judges. “In case the judges decide not to oversee the referendum, the head of the state has the right to issue a constitutional declaration devolving the task to lawyers, university professors or any other category whose impartiality and integrity are trusted,” Ahmad Abu Baraka, a senior official in Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood, told the state-run newspaper Al Ahram.
The judges have said that the referendum will be illegal without their supervision.