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Egypt top judges to oversee constitutional referendum

Egypt's Supreme Judicial Council on Monday agreed to oversee a national referendum on the country's new constitution [text, PDF]. The Council, which is Egypt's highest administrative body overseeing the courts, plans to delegate judges [Reuters report] to monitor the nation's constitutional referendum, and about 10,000 judges are needed. This decision comes after the Supreme Constitutional Court [official website, in Arabic] indefinitely halted its operations [JURIST report] over the weekend amid pressure from protesters aiming to block the judges from meeting to rule on the validity of the new constitution. In particular, supporters of President Mohamed Morsi [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] flooded the court [BBC report], thereby 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 [JURIST report] on Friday in anticipation of the hearing, and on Saturday, Morsi set December 15 as the date of the referendum. While tens of thousands of moderate and conservative Islamists have voiced support for the constitution, thousands of other liberal and secular protestors have decried it since Morsi issued a decree [JURIST report] in November vastly expanding his powers.

Egypt has endured 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, most significantly, removed judicial review of his actions. 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.

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