Egypt: high court suspends work in face of protests

Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court on Dec. 2 indefinitely halted its operations amid pressure from protestors aiming to block the judges from meeting to rule on the validity of the country’s new constitution (PDF). Supporters of President Mohamed Morsi flooded the court, blocking the judges from entering and forcing them to delay hearing a case that would permit them to dissolve the constituent assembly that drafted the new constitution. The constitution was hurriedly approved Nov. 28 in anticipation of the scheduled hearing. On the day after the approval, Morsi set Dec. 15 for a referendum on the new constitution. Tens of thousands of moderate and conservative Islamists gathered around Cairo University in support for the constitution, cheering as Morsi announced the referendum. However, tens of thousands of liberal and secular protesters, who have been protesting Morsi for over a week after he issued a decree vastly expanding his powers, objected to the constitution-writing assembly, stating that the body was unrepresentative after liberal, secular and Christian members had left. Such protesters are calling for Morsi to abandon his decree and begin the constitution drafting process anew, but Morsi dismissed the idea of drafting a new constitution. Mass protests have been scheduled for this week.

From Jurist, Dec. 2. Used with permission.


  1. Egypt constitution: Iranian model?
    UN  High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay issued a press release Dec. 7 delineating “major problems” with Egypt’s draft constitution, including:

    While noting that the draft constitution guarantees equality before the law in rights and duties with no discrimination, the High Commissioner noted that “it does not explicitly prohibit discrimination on the grounds of gender, sex, religion and origin,” while maintaining the language in the 1971 Constitution concerning Sharia Law as the primary source of legislation and jurisprudence.

    “The draft constitution guarantees the freedom of faith, but only mentions the three monotheistic religions, raising concern for all other religious groups including resident minorities such as the Baha’i community,” Pillay said. “This makes it less inclusive than the 1971 Constitution, and opens the door to breaches of Egypt’s obligation under international law to honour everyone’s right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”

    Pillay seems to miss a far more critical point, however. The draft constitution, online as a PDF, contains the following text in Aritcle 2:

    Islam is the religion of the State and Arabic is the official language. Islamic Law is the main source of legislation and Al-Azhar is the final authority in the interpretation of Islamic Law.

    In other words, the clerics of Cairo’s al-Azhar mosque and university could have veto power over legislation, as the ayatollahs do in Iran…

    Tens of thousands of protesters surged around the presidential palace on Friday Dec. 7 and the opposition rejected Mursi’s call for dialogue. Chants again included those made famous in the revolution against Mubarak: “The people want the downfall of the regime” and “Leave, leave!” Reuters reports that Republican Guard units ringed the palace with tanks and barbed wire the day before, after violence between supporters and opponents of Mursi left seven dead and wounded 350. Islamists, who had obeyed a military order for demonstrators to leave the palace environs, held funerals on Friday at Cairo’s al-Azhar mosque for six Mursi partisans who were among the dead. “With our blood and souls, we sacrifice to Islam,” they chanted, also echoing an anti-Mubarak slogan…

  2. Morsi ends decree expanding presidential powers
    Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi on Dec. 9 ended a controversial decree that had greatly expanded his presidential powers. Although the move was viewed as a concession to protesters who had called for the end of the decree], Morsi refused to push the constitutional referendum on Egypt’s draft constitution back from Dec. 15, which the protesters had also wanted. Terminating the decree does not rescind any of the decisions Morsi made while the decree was in place, such as his approval of the draft constitution. Those decisions were not subject to judicial oversight and cannot be challenged in the court system. The announcement, given by a presidential adviser, followed a presidential “national dialogue” meeting that was boycotted by the president’s opponents. Egyptian authorities claim six people have died as a result of the protests, and the Muslim Brotherhood have said the clashes have claimed the lives of eight members.

    From Jurist, Dec. 9. Used with permission.

  3. Morsi decree gives Egypt military power to arrest civilians
    Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi on Dec. 10 ordered the military to work with the nation’s police to maintain security until the referendum on Dec. 15. This order, which leads up to the already controversial referendum on Egypt’s constitution, gives the military the power to arrest civilians and transfer them into detention for prosecution. When considered with the other powers given to the military and restrictions on expression, this will allow the military to arrest individuals for media offenses and “thuggery” and then transfer them to the prosecutor where they may be detained for up to six months. This leads to further concern over the military’s treatment of detainees. Morsi supporters claim this order was needed to preserve the peace amid minority opposition, a role the military regularly played under Hosni Mubarak, but they do not have that express power [Reuters report] under the new government.

    From Jurist, Dec. 10. Used with permission.

  4. Egypt: rights groups call for new vote on constitution
    A coalition of Egyptian rights group called Dec. 16 for a redo of the previous day’s constitutional referendum, alleging widespread irregularities. The groups, including the Cairo Institute for Human Rights, claim that there was a lack of judicial supervision at the polling places and intentional delays at several women’s polling places, rendering them unable to vote. Results from the referendum, which took place in about half the voting districts, show a lead for the “yes” vote after the first round, with a second and final round scheduled for the remaining districts next Saturday. The rights groups also “call[ed] upon the Supreme Elections Commission to avoid these irregularities in the second round.”

    Frpm Jurist, Dec. 17. Used with permission.