Egypt is fast approaching the boiling point as Morsi supporters have prevented the Supreme Constitutional Court from meeting to rule on a petition to dismiss the constitution-drafting committee and the judges responded by declaring a strike.
Pictured: Hundreds of supporters of Egypt's president Mohammed Morsi protest outside a top Egyptian court on December 2, 2012 in Cairo. Photo by AFP
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Another line in the relationship between the Egyptian public and the judicial establishment was crossed on Sunday, when groups of President Mohammed Morsi's supporters and members of ultraconservative Salafi movements that had assembled near the gates of the Supreme Constitutional Court in Cairo barred the judges' entry to the courthouse.
This is the first time demonstrators have disrupted the workings of Egypt's highest court of law, which enjoys widespread public legitimacy; the protesters have gone so far as to issue death threats against the judges.
Meanwhile, other groups of protesters continued to gather in Tahrir Square to express their opposition to Morsi, the expansion of his authorities and the new draft constitution, shouting slogans against the Egyptian president and calling for his ouster. Only a few kilometers separated them from the hundreds of buses chartered by the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party to bring masses of Islamic activists into the capital, where they took part in the huge demonstration held by Morsi supporters in Nahdet Misr Square.
The buffer zone between the demonstrations is so far dividing the two large crowds of protesters, but this may not last very long. A large-scale demonstration comprising 18 opposition movements, which is scheduled to be held on Tuesday near the presidential palace, is liable to deteriorate into a violent confrontation between Morsi's supporters and opponents. Several Egyptian commentators are predicting that the confrontation, should it transpire, could lead to the army's intervention and push Egypt back to square one of the popular uprising.
Sunday's demonstrations in Cairo and the blow to the independence of the constitutional court are leading Egypt toward a boiling point at which Morsi, who has been unable to calm the opposition, could lose control of the situation.
Apparently aware of the serious mistake he made last week when he unveiled a series of "constitutional decrees" that would place his decisions above the law and exempt them from judicial appeal, Morsi evidently believed that quickly drafting the new constitution and then holding a public referendum in two weeks' time would mollify his opponents. In so doing, he also aspired to make irrelevant the constitutional court hearing on whether to dismiss the constitution-drafting panel.
Morsi's considerations were flawed on both counts. The opposition movements believe that the draft constitution that was approved on Saturday constitutes "a theft of democracy and does harm to the spirit of the revolution." The differences of opinion, they claim, are still significant. Even the approval of those sections of the constitution on which there is no major disagreement was given by a panel largely composed of members of the Islamic movements, and thus it does not reflect the interests of large segments of the public. The opposition hoped the constitutional court would debate the issue of the committee's constitutionality and that it would rule the committee should be dismissed - in the second round.
Morsi declared that the court hearing was no longer relevant, given the fact that the draft constitution had already been approved. However, the judges disagreed. They tried to enter the courthouse for the court session but were forced to withdraw due to the presence of the hostile pro-Morsi demonstrators.
The constitutional court then announced that it had no intention of going back to work until it could be assured proper working conditions for the judges - without threats and without pressure. In the meantime, so long as the constitutional court has not rendered its opinion on the appeal against the committee's lopsided makeup, the president's opponents will continue to demand the suspension of the draft constitution and the cancellation of the public referendum.
The strike declared by the constitutional court and the decision by many of Egypt's judges to suspend their work until Morsi retracts his "presidential decisions" is liable to pose a formidable hurdle to holding the referendum. Some of the judges have already threatened not to take part in judicial supervision of the vote, which would open up the referendum to charges of fraud and counterfeiting. In this context, Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Essam al-Arian said he believes it would be possible to circumvent the supervision issue by other means, but the truth is that there is currently no legitimate substitute for the judges' supervision.
The more time that passes since Morsi's announcement of his decisions, the greater the opposition to how he has managed the crisis. At this point, it is not yet clear whether the Muslim Brotherhood leadership pushed Morsi to issue the presidential decrees or he reached these decisions independently. The slogans used by Muslim Brotherhood activists suggest that the final word is held not by Morsi but by the Muslim Brotherhood's Supreme Guide Mohammed Badie, whose appointment caused a rift in the movement.
Resolution of the crisis now depends on an assessment of the damage that would be done to Morsi's authority and erosion in the status of the Muslim Brotherhood during the period leading up to the parliamentary elections, which are to be held two months after the final approval of the constitution.
It is doubtful whether the reprimands Morsi is receiving from France, Germany and the U.S. over his behavior will have any effect on his decisions. For now, it is an internal political struggle, in a new reality in which the city squares are the parliament and the media is an indivisible part of the struggle.
SOURCE: Zvi Bar'el