Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court [official website] on Sunday 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 [text, PDF]. Supporters of President Mohamed Morsi [BBC backgrounder] flooded the court [BBC report], blocking the judges from entering and forcing them to delay hearing a case scheduled for Sunday that would permit them to dissolve the constituent assembly that drafted the new constitution. The constitution was hurriedly approved [JURIST report] on Friday in anticipation of the Sunday hearing. On Saturday Morsi set December 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 [JURIST report] vastly expanding his powers, objected to the constitution-writing assembly [WP report], 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 Tuesday.
Egypt has undergone political turmoil since its revolution [JURIST feature] last year. Earlier this week Egyptian courts suspended work [JURIST report] to protest Morsi's recent decree, which removed judicial review of his actions and vastly expanded his power. Morsi had agreed to meet with the judges [JURIST report] earlier this week to discuss the decree. In October Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] urged Egypt to amend its proposed constitution [JURIST report] to comply with international treaties. In August a lawyer in Egypt filed an appeal challenging a declaration by Morsi granting himself complete legislative and executive power [JURIST reports]. In July, a few days after he was sworn in as president, Morsi issued a decree [JURIST reports] calling the Egyptian parliament back into session, despite a previous ruling by the Supreme Constitutional Court dissolving parliament after finding that one-third of its members were elected illegally. The court suspended Morsi's decree two days later, after which Morsi vowed that he would respect the ruling [JURIST reports]. Days before its dissolution, the Egyptian parliament elected a new constitutional council after lawmakers finally reached an agreement [JURIST reports] on the political composition of the council. In April the country's Administrative Court temporarily suspended [JURIST report] the work of the Egyptian Constituent Assembly after ruling in favor of a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the formation of the panel.