Egypt’s judges won’t supervise the Dec. 15 constitutional referendum and will boycott the vote, Egypt’s state-run Middle East News Agency reported, citing Judge Ahmed El Zind, the head of the nation’s judge’s association.
The announcement appears to deepen a constitutional crisis in Egypt, which is trying to structure a government after the collapse of former president Hosni Mubarak’s regime during the Arab Spring.
Egypt’s highest court suspended its work after hundreds of President Mohamed Mursi’s Islamist supporters protested earlier today outside the court building against a scheduled hearing dealing with the legitimacy of a panel that wrote the draft constitution.
The Supreme Constitutional Court said it couldn’t operate in such an environment and would suspend its sessions until justices can again work without “any psychological and material pressure.” It didn’t say when it would reconvene.
“The judges of the Supreme Constitutional Court have no choice but to announce to the great people of Egypt that they are unable to carry out their sacred duty in such a charged environment, filled with hatred, desire for vengeance, and fabricated, imaginary animosity,” the court said in the statement.
One Egyptian high court justice said he and his colleagues were told their safety would be at risk if they attended the hearing today.
“We have been forcefully prevented from entering, and there were threats of murder and of burning the building,” Justice Tahani el-Gebali, who was among those singled out in the chants, said by phone. “We have received security information not to go because our lives would be in danger.”
The protesters had camped overnight by the court, gathering hours after Mursi had set Dec. 15 as the date for a national referendum on a draft charter.
The announcement followed more than a week of mass protests by opponents demanding dissolution of the panel, which is dominated by Islamists. Backers of Mursi, an Islamist drawn from the Muslim Brotherhood, countered Dec. 1, gathering tens of thousands in support of the president and the draft.
The hearing today was meant to deal with the legitimacy of the constitutional panel and the parliament’s upper house. An earlier incarnation of the committee was dissolved, while the lower house was also disbanded following court rulings.
Mursi last month announced sweeping new powers that set his decisions above court oversight until the constitutional referendum.