Egypt’s highest body of judges on Saturday accused President Mohammed Mursi of “unprecedented assault” on the judiciary by assuming sweeping powers putting him beyond judicial oversight, with some going on protest strike.
The Supreme Judicial Council said after an emergency meeting that Mursi’s constitutional declaration was “an unprecedented assault on the independence of the judiciary and its rulings.”
The council, which handles administrative affairs and judicial appointments, called on the president to remove from the declaration “anything that touches the judiciary.”
The Judges Club of Alexandria had announced “the suspension of work in all courts and prosecution administrations in the provinces of Alexandria and Beheira.”
And they “will accept nothing less than the cancellation of (Mursi’s decree),” which violates the principle of separation of powers, club chief Mohammed Ezzat al-Agwa said.
The Judges’ condemnation of the president’s edicts are the latest blow to Mursi, whose decision Thursday set off a firestorm of controversy and prompted tens of thousands of people to take to the streets in nationwide protests Friday.
Through their statement, the judges join a widening list of leaders and activists from Egypt’s political factions, including some Islamists, who have denounced the decree.
The Supreme Judicial Council is packed with judges appointed by former President Hosni Mubarak. It regulates judicial promotions and is chaired by the head of the Court of Cassation.
Their move reflects a broad sense of anger within the judiciary. Some judges’ groups and prosecutors have already announced partial strikes to protest Mursi’s decree.
Mursi has accused pro-Mubarak elements in the judiciary of blocking political progress. In the last year, courts have dissolved the lower house of parliament as well as the first panel drafting the constitution, both led by his Muslim Brotherhood group.
The edicts Mursi issued mean that no judicial body can dissolve the upper house of parliament or the current assembly writing the new constitution, which are also both led by the Brotherhood. Supporters of Mursi feared that court might in fact dissolve one of these bodies, further postponing Egypt’s transition under the aegis of a new constitution.
They say Mursi has a mandate to guide this process as Egypt’s first freely elected president, having defeated one of Mubarak’s former prime ministers this summer in a closely contested election.
The judges’ council’s stand against the president sets the ground for an uneasy alliance between former regime officials and activist groups that helped topple Mubarak’s regime and have in the past derided those officials as “felool,” or remnants.
The presidents’ opponents nonetheless see the judiciary as the only remaining civilian branch of government with a degree of independence, since Mursi already holds executive power and as well as legislative authority due to the dissolution of parliament.
Mursi said Friday, before thousands of Brotherhood supports outside his presidential palace in Cairo, that he decision was aimed at protecting the nation from old regime loyalists using the judiciary to “harm the country.”
He removed on Thursday the country’s longtime attorney general, widely seen as a Mubarak holdover who did not effectively pursue the many cases against former regime officials accused of corruption, and ordered the retrial of former officials if new evidence against them is brought forth.
The ousted attorney general, Abdel Maguid Mahmoud, appeared before the judges’ club on Saturday – his first public appearance since Mursi’s decree. He was greeted by raucous applause and cries of “Illegitimate! Illegitimate!” in reference to the president’s decision, and read out a statement saying judicial authorities are looking into the legality of the president’s decision to remove him.
Several hundred protesters remained in Cairo’s Tahrir Square Saturday, where a number of tents have been erected in a sit-in following nearly a week of clashes with riot police. The country’s most prominent opposition groups called for another mass rally on Tuesday, saying that the edicts make Mursi a “new pharaoh.”
And in a counter attack, the Muslim Brotherhood also called for a mass demonstration on the same day to show support for President Mursi.