Islamist protesters force Egypt court to halt session
CAIRO - Agence France-Press
Hundreds of supporters of Egypt's president Mohammed Morsi protest outside the Supreme Constitutional Court on December 2, 2012 in Cairo, forcing judges to postpone a hearing on a constitutional panel at the heart of a deepening political crisis. AFP photoHundreds of supporters of President Mohamed Morsi protested on Sunday outside Egypt's top court, forcing judges to delay the potential scrapping of an Islamist panel that drafted a disputed constitution.
The Supreme Constitutional Court then declared it was beginning an open-ended strike in what it called a "black day" for the judiciary.
Islamists, many wrapped in blankets and carrying posters of Morsi, spent the night outside the courthouse and blocked off a main road that runs along the Nile leading up to it, trying to stop the judges from entering.
"The will of the people is stronger than the will of a few judges," said demonstrator Ismail Ahmed, 39, referring to the judiciary where many judges remain from the era of Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted by a popular uprising last year.
The judges responded by calling an "administrative delay" to Sunday's session, prompting the protesters to head home from the courthouse, an AFP reporter said.
The court said later it would "suspend work for an indefinite period... and until there is no more psychological and material pressure," while expressing "utmost sorrow and pain" over the "moral assassination" of its judges.
An interior ministry official denied it was impossible for judges to enter the courthouse, saying some judiciary officials had in fact gone in thanks to government security forces guarding the entrances to ensure their safety.
The court had been due to rule on the legality of the Islamist-dominated constituent assembly, which drafted a new constitution that Morsi announced on Saturday would go to a popular referendum on December 15.
The new charter has become the focal point of Egypt's biggest political crisis since Morsi was elected in June, squaring Islamist forces against secular-leaning opponents.
Any ruling by the court would have escalated the crisis with Morsi, defying his presidential decree barring any judicial body from dissolving the assembly, which adopted the draft constitution amid a boycott by liberals and Christians.
The November 22 decree sparked the current crisis, with the constitution, which had been due for more deliberation, being rushed through days later amid popular unrest.
The disputed charter -- has been criticised for paving the way to a strict interpretation of Islamic law and failing to secure key rights -- prompted mass rival rallies by Morsi opponents and Islamists.
Hundreds of thousands of Islamist protesters gathered on Saturday in support of Morsi, his sweeping powers and the disputed constitution, a day after crowds thronged to Cairo's Tahrir Square to denounce his "dictatorial" decree.
"One nation, two peoples," read the front page of Al-Shuruq newspaper, while Al-Masri al-Youm ran with "Egypt at the mouth of a volcano".
The Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters have branded the anti-Islamist opposition enemies of the 2011 revolution, and Sunday's protesters chanted against secular and liberal opposition leaders.
The National Rescue Front -- a coalition of opponents led by Mohamed ElBaradei, the former UN nuclear watchdog chief; ex-Arab League chief Amr Mussa; and former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi -- has called on opponents of the decree to maintain the pressure.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have raised concerns about the draft charter.
On Thursday, Morsi stressed his new powers would expire once the constitution was ratified, a point Islamists have repeatedly made in his favour.
In 2011, the Brotherhood and the secular-leaning opposition stood side by side in Tahrir Square as they fought to bring down Mubarak and his regime.
But since Mubarak's downfall in February 2011, the Islamist movement has been accused of monopolising power.