Judiciary to oversee referendum Egyptian civil disobedience could widen

CAIRO, Dec 3, (Agencies): Egypt’s Supreme Judicial Council has cleared the way for a referendum on a new constitution which President Mohamed Morsi hopes will end a political crisis that has split the country.
Some judges had called for their colleagues to shun the Dec 15 plebiscite, which must be supervised by the judiciary like all elections in Egypt. But the council’s decision suggests enough officials can be mobilised to oversee the vote.
“The Supreme Judicial Council has met and agreed to delegate judges to oversee the constitutional referendum,” Mohamed Gadallah, a legal adviser to Morsi, told Reuters on Monday. State media also reported the decision of the council.
Gadallah said about 10,000 members of the judiciary are needed for the monitoring. These do not all have to be judges and could include officials in prosecutors’ offices for example.
“This moves Morsi closer to credible judicial supervision of the referendum but probably will do little to reassure his opponents of the legitimacy of the process, beginning from the formation of the constitutional assembly,” said Elijah Zarwan, a fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations.
Judicial dissent has complicated the Islamist leader’s effort to end the crisis over Egypt’s political transition by driving through a new constitution in a snap vote in a drafting assembly dominated by his Islamist supporters.

Boycott
The influential but unofficial Judges Club had called on Sunday for a boycott of the referendum which Morsi hopes will douse anger over a decree he issued on Nov. 22, expanding his powers and temporarily putting himself above judicial review.
Such a boycott, even if not all judges joined it, could undermine the credibility of the plebiscite and worsen disputes that have plagued Egypt’s path to political change since a popular revolt overthrew Hosni Mubarak nearly 22 months ago.
The judiciary, like Egyptian society at large, is split over the vote on the constitution, the way in which it was drafted and Morsi’s decree, seen by his opponents as a power grab and by his supporters as necessary to keep the transition on track.
There was no direct comment from the judicial council, the body which formally oversees judicial affairs.
Many judges voiced outrage at Morsi’s decree, which caused unrest in which three people were killed and hundreds wounded. Even his justice minister and vice president - brothers who were formerly respected judges who advocated judicial independence in Mubarak’s time - have expressed misgivings.

Protest

The opposition has called for another mass protest on Tuesday in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the cradle of the anti-Mubarak revolt. Morsi’s opponents have camped out there since Nov. 23. Some activists plan to march to the president’s office.
The constitution, which if approved would override the decree, is itself contested by opposition groups who say the Muslim Brotherhood hijacked the drafting of a document they say has no legitimacy in a deeply polarised society.
“Settling this matter using the ballot box is an illegitimate trick representing false democracy,” liberal opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei said on Twitter.
The Judges Club boycott call carries echoes of Mubarak’s days, when independent-minded sections of the judiciary refused to oversee elections unless he enacted judicial reform.
However,, one leading figure in that campaign for judicial independence, former Judges Club head Zakaria Abdel Aziz, said the judges had a “national duty” to oversee this referendum.
“A lot of judges called me and they are heading in the direction of supervising the referendum,” he told Reuters.
“The head of the Judges Club is pushing in the direction of scorched earth,” he said. “He and some of those that support him have pulled the judges into a political battleground.”
Ahmed el-Zind, who now heads the Judges Club, has staunchly opposed Morsi’s decree, taking the side of the former prosecutor general, a Mubarak-era appointee sacked under its provisions.
“We will not supervise a referendum that slaughters the nation’s rights,” Zind told Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper on Monday. Zind’s critics say his enthusiasm for an independent judiciary only became apparent after Morsi took office.
The Judges Club recommendation for a referendum boycott by judges is not binding. Its earlier call for a judicial strike against Morsi’s decree saw partial success, with the Cassation Court and Egypt’s highest appeals court ceasing work.
On Sunday, the Supreme Constitutional Court, the highest in the land, followed suit, complaining that Morsi supporters outside its headquarters were intimidating the judges.
The court had been due to hear cases contesting the legality of parliament’s Islamist-led upper house and of the assembly that wrote the constitution, which was handed to Morsi on Saturday.
Morsi faced the prospect of widening civil disobedience on Monday as media and the tourism industry pondered measures to join a protest by judges against the Islamist leader.
Newspapers plan to suspend publication on Tuesday while privately owned TV networks will go dark all day. The full front pages of Egypt’s most prominent newspapers on Monday said: “No to dictatorship” on a black background with a picture of a man wrapped in newspaper and with his feet cuffed.
Hotels and restaurants are considering switching off their lights for half an hour on Tuesday to protest against Morsi, according to the Supporting Tourism Coalition an independent body representing tourism industry employees.
Morsi’s moves have plunged an already polarized Egypt in the worst political crises since the uprising nearly two years ago that ousted authoritarian President Hosni Mubarak.
The crisis left the country divided between Morsi and his Islamic fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood along with another ultraconservative Islamist group, the Salafis, in one camp and their opposition in the other — youth groups, liberal parties and large sectors of the public.
The opposition brought out at least 200,000 protesters to Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Tuesday and a comparable number Friday to demand that Morsi’s decrees be rescinded. For ten days, protesters have camped out in the square and planned for a massive rally at the presidential palace on Tuesday.
The Islamists responded Saturday with hundreds of thousands of protesters in Cairo’s twin city of Giza. Thousands took to the streets and imposed a siege on Egypt’s highest court, the Supreme Constitutional Court.
The court had been widely expected to hand down a ruling on Sunday that would declare the constitutional assembly that passed the draft charter illegitimate and disband parliament’s upper house, the Shura Council. But instead, the judges went on strike after they found their building under siege by protesters.
Three of Morsi’s aides have also resigned over his decree. Two members of the official National Council of Human Rights quit on Monday, describing the decrees as “disastrous.” They expressed “real fears” of Brotherhood hegemony in Egypt.
The new draft constitution has been criticized for not providing protection for women’s and minority rights. Critics say it empowers Islamic religious clerics by giving them a say over legislation while some articles were seen as tailored to get rid of Islamists’ enemies.
 

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