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Egyptian judges revolt against Morsy's edict sidelining nation's judiciary

Asmaa Waguih | Reuters
Anti-Morsy protesters chant slogans in front of the Supreme Judicial Council building in Cairo on Saturday, November 24, 2012. Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy faced a rebellion on Saturday from judges who accused him of expanding his powers at their expense, deepening a crisis that triggered calls for more protests following a day of violence across Egypt. Egypt's highest judicial authority, the Supreme Judicial Council, said the decree issued by Morsy on Thursday was an 'unprecedented attack' on the independence of the judiciary.

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Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, 11:44 p.m.

CAIRO — Egyptian judges declared on Saturday that they will strike in opposition to President Mohamed Morsy's seizing near-total power and sidelining the country's judiciary.

The judges' suspension of “all courts and prosecutions” occurred during a second day of widespread unrest by enraged Egyptians.

Political analyst Bassem Sabry said the strike is “a direct dagger to the legitimacy” of Egypt's Islamist president.

“Morsy has been keen on surrounding himself with independent judges to give himself legitimacy,” Sabry said. So a jurists' strike “can really have an effect on the Egyptian state, and the pressure would be felt by Morsy and his team.”

Anti-Morsy protesters massed outside the nation's high court, where judges debated their next move.

Sameh Elias, 44, a tour guide who was in the crowd, said Morsy “belongs to a fascist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, and his decisions are making a dictatorial regime.”

Morsy, a former Muslim Brotherhood leader, won the presidency last June after the 2011 ouster of dictator Hosni Mubarak. Critics have denounced Morsy as “the new pharaoh.”

Morsy's surprise decree, issued on Thursday, placed the executive, legislative and judiciary branches under his control. It has ignited a political firestorm across a deeply divided Egypt.

The country's Supreme Judicial Council denounced it as “an unprecedented attack” on the judiciary. Liberal and leftist parties called for a million-man march to Cairo's Tahrir Square on Tuesday to oppose the decree.

The Muslim Brotherhood has scheduled its own march a few blocks away, creating the potential for pitched street battles.

Morsy told supporters on Friday that “termites (are) eating away at the nation” and his decree would bring stability.

Critics said the decree would guarantee that a constitution-drafting committee remains dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and ultra-religious Salafis, infusing their fundamentalist ideology into Egypt's rule.

“We want a new liberal constitution,” said Elias, the tour guide protesting outside the high court. “A constitution from the Muslim Brotherhood will lead to a religious regime, a theocracy. It will be like Iran, and we Egyptians can't accept that.”

As serious-faced judges entered the court, the crowd chanted, “Egyptian judges are a red line!”

Some demonstrators held up an Egyptian newspaper with an anti-Morsy headline: “Leave, oh Pharaoh.” Others chanted against him, the Muslim Brotherhood and its leader, Supreme Guide Muhammed Badie. “We are not infidels nor atheists, but down, down with the rule of the supreme guide!” they shouted.

Protester Iman Muhammed said she was never politically active before, “but this is alarming.

“I truly doubt we will see further elections, social life here will be ruined and run by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis, and women's rights will be completely crushed,” said Muhammed, 38.

A graduate of American University in Cairo and bank employee, she voiced “serious questions” about U.S. policy.

“We feel that the American administration supports the Muslim Brotherhood, and they don't mind us being oppressed,” she said. “Meanwhile, (U.S. officials) are always talking about democracy and human rights.”

In a tepid reaction, the State Department said Morsy's decree “raised concerns.”

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was far more critical, stating in a Twitter post that Morsy “should renounce his power grab before things get out of hand.”

Unidentified assailants shot fireworks at the court and tried to storm the building as riot police fired tear gas into the crowd. The falling sparks panicked demonstrators.

“They were aiming at the building so it would fall on us,” a distraught woman said. “We were shocked. We didn't understand what is happening.”

“The Brotherhood are beating us!” screamed a hysterical woman. Young men in the crowd beat a suspected Muslim Brotherhood supporter.

Anti-Morsy protesters battled lines of riot police outside the court and on streets near the capital's Tahrir Square.

The website of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party reported that an Islamist lawyer filed a case against opposition leaders Mohamed ElBaradei, Hamdeen Sabahi and Amr Moussa for encouraging a “coup against the regime.”

All three have been rallying opposition to Morsy's decree.

An opposing group of 100 jurists, calling themselves “Judges for Egypt,” announced support for Morsy's decree.

But 22 Egyptian human rights groups issued a statement rejecting it and accusing Morsy of “seeking absolute powers.”

“Many, many Egyptians don't want Morsy or the Muslim Brotherhood's ideology, and he has to understand that,” said Elias, the protesting tour guide. “If not, the protests will continue.”

Betsy Hiel is the Tribune-Review's foreign correspondent. Email her at

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