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Egypt’s Highest Court Delays Ruling Again on Upper House Case

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Jan. 15 (Bloomberg) -- Egypt’s highest court referred to its advisory body a case that could lead to the dissolution of parliament’s upper chamber, delaying again a ruling on an issue that has deepened political rifts.

The Supreme Constitutional Court also set for Feb. 3 a ruling on a parallel case questioning the legitimacy of the Islamist-dominated panel that drafted the country’s new constitution, according to a statement read out in court.

Demonstrators supporting the dissolution of the parliament camped overnight in front of the court, while authorities boosted security forces by the venue ahead of the hearing. Islamist critics of the court had massed by the hundreds in the same place in December and prompted justices to cancel a planned hearing on the cases.

The court, which saw its membership cut by nearly half under the new constitution, said it was referring the suit challenging the law under which the parliament’s upper chamber was elected to its advisory body for review in light of the new charter. The constitution was passed by a majority in a two-stage referendum that ended Dec. 22 and preceded by weeks of unrest and repeated clashes between secularists and Islamists.

The protests and the debate over the constitution underscore the deepening rifts in the Arab world’s most populous nation since President Mohamed Mursi was elected in June.

Banners hoisted across the street from the court today read: “No to the terrorism of the Brotherhood,” and “Youth of the revolution protect the court.”

Power Struggle

The Islamist president’s critics argue that he and the Muslim Brotherhood are monopolizing power. The opposition says Mursi pushed through a charter drafted by an Islamist-dominated committee that undercuts freedoms and further enshrines Islamic law in the country.

The high court came under fire from Islamists who said its Mubarak-appointed justices were biased against Mursi and were intent on upending attempts at progress by the country’s first democratically elected civilian president.

As hundreds of Islamists massed by the court on Dec. 2, the judges were forced to cancel a hearing in which they were to decide on the constitutionality of the law under which the parliament’s upper house was elected. The move drew sharp rebukes from the judiciary, which claimed it was being targeted, particularly after Mursi issued a Nov. 22 decree placing his decisions above court review and granting the parliament and the constitutional panel immunity from dissolution.

The legislature’s lower house was disbanded after the court ruled against it earlier last year. The upper house has assumed temporary legislative powers since the ratification of the constitution.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tarek El-Tablawy in Cairo at teltablawy@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net