Two of Egypt’s highest courts moved to suspend their work to protest decrees issued by the country’s Islamist president granting him sweeping powers. The courts vow to remain on strike until the edicts are rescinded.
The Cairo Court of Appeals and the Court of Cassation (the final appeals court) both suspended their work indefinitely on Wednesday, Egyptian state media reported.
The Supreme Court had earlier weighed in on Egypt’s current crisis, accusing President Mohamed Morsi of carrying out an unjustified attack on judicial independence.
"There was an attack against the court, false information was circulated about it… but the real sadness for its judges was that the president of the republic joined in the attack against the constitutional court," Maher al-Beheiry, the chairman of the Supreme Constitutional Court of Egypt told reporters.
A court spokesman further countered accusations the judicial body was packed with judges loyal to the former regime of Hosni Mubarak.
"It wasn't true or honest to claim that the judges of the Constitutional Court are chosen from among those who have a specific political direction or are the previous regime's allies," the court's spokesman Maher Samy said during a media conference on Wednesday.
The constitutional court, which did not suspend its operations despite conflicting reports on the matter, is set to rule on the legality of the 100-member Constituent Assembly currently drafting the new constitution on Sunday. The verdict is viewed a direct challenge to Morsi, as it directly challenges the presidential decree.
Opposition activists fear the Muslim Brotherhood is laying the groundwork for an Islamist state via the drafting of a new national charter, as the assembly is panel is dominated by members of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists.
The judicial backlash against Morsi kicked off on Saturday, when the primary court in Alexandria, along with the judges club in the city, agreed to suspend all of their work until the edicts were withdrawn.
On Friday, Morsi accused the court of leaking verdicts prior to their announcement. Morsi's attack on the court's integrity came one day after the issuance of an edict which effectively eliminated judicial oversight of his decrees, laws and decisions until a new parliament is elected. Morsi also said no court could dissolve the Islamist-dominated constituent assembly which is currently drafting the country’s new national charter.
He extended the assembly’s deadline to finish drafting the new constitution, which was previously scheduled to be completed by December 5, by two months.
Morsi defended the decrees, saying they were only temporary measures which would be repealed once the new constitution is ratified and a new parliament is elected.
The move sparked nationwide protests that culimated in a 200,000-strong rally on Tahrir Square on Tuesday night. Running street battles in Cairo and other Egyptian cities lasted into the morning, with police deploying teargas to disperse rock-throwing protesters.
One protester died in Cairo on Tuesday as a result of being exposed to too much tear gas, making him the fourth person to lose his life in the recent clashes throughout the country.
Demonstrators have vowed to stay on the square until Morsi withdraws the decrees.
The Muslim Brotherhood and hardline Salafi parties have planned counterdemonstrations across Egypt on Saturday to rally around Morsi.