Cairo - Egypt's top judges began an open-ended strike on Monday as anger mounted over a power grab by President Mohamed Morsi and a new constitution drafted by an Islamist-leaning council.
The Supreme Constitutional Court suspended its work indefinitely due to “psychological and material pressure” following a protest on Sunday by Morsi supporters which judges said prevented them from delivering a key ruling.
The judges, many of whom remain from the era of toppled dictator Hosni Mubarak, had been due to examine the legality of the panel that drafted the charter following a boycott by liberals, leftists and Christians.
It was also to look into the legality of the Islamist-dominated senate, the only remaining elected legislative body after the court dissolved parliament on a technicality.
The press threw its weight behind the mounting protests against Morsi.
A cartoon of a newspaper in human form chained in a cell was pasted on the front of independent papers including Al-Watan and Al-Masry Al-Youm with the line “A constitution that cancels rights and shackles freedoms. No to dictatorship”.
Eleven independent and opposition party newspapers also declared they would not go to print on Tuesday.
On Sunday, the Judges Club which represents judges nationwide, said it would not oversee the December 15 referendum on the new constitution, as judges had done in past elections to ensure their legitimacy.
The move is the latest in a string of protests against Morsi who last week issued a decree expanding his powers and rushed through the adoption of the draft constitution at the heart of a political and ideological battle in the country.
The Islamist president's decree also stripped any judicial body of the right to annul the constituent assembly and senate.
The draft constitution has been criticised for failing to protect key rights and allowing a stricter interpretation of Islamic law.
Morsi's supporters accuse the judges of being elitist holdouts from the Mubarak-era and of standing in the way of public support for the Islamists expressed in repeated votes since the strongman's ouster early last year.
Morsi's deputy, Judge Mahmud Mekki, insisted in an interview with state television that the president did not plan to “abuse” the constitutional decree and wanted the transitional phase to end as quickly as possible.
A senior Islamist who helped draft Egypt's new constitution, Amr Darrag, attacked the constitutional court as “highly politicised” and told AFP in an interview liberal opponents had been unwilling to compromise on the charter.
The standoff has polarised Egyptian opinion and sparked the biggest political crisis since Morsi assumed power in June as the country's first ever civilian president and its first elected leader since Mubarak's ouster in a popular uprising early last year.
Opposition protesters have called for fresh protests on Tuesday to against the referendum in a day dubbed “the final warning”. - AFP