(Photo: Reuters/Asmaa Waguih)
Egypt's highest body of judges blasted President Mohamed Morsi for giving himself vast powers, and judges went on a strike to protest the Islamist leader's move that has caused a mass uprising in that nation and raised concerns in the United States.
The Supreme Judicial Council said in a statement after holding an emergency meeting in Cairo on Saturday that Morsi's new constitutional declaration is "an unprecedented violation [of] the independence of the judiciary and its rulings."
Courts in Alexandria, Qalyubiya and Beheira governorates refused to hear cases after the Judges Club called for a strike of judges, state-owned Al-Ahram reported.
President Morsi, who represents the political wing of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, declared last Thursday that no one can overturn any decree or law he will issue - or has issued since he took office in June. The declaration also protects both the Shura Council and the Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly from dissolution by any judicial authority, and extends the constitution-writing body's mandate by two months.
Egypt has a provision constitution since 2011, and until a new constitution is being written.
Morsi's supporters fired teargas at supporters of the Judges Club, which decided to call the strike of judges, while its members were meeting inside the High Court building in Cairo on Saturday, according to Egypt Independent.
"We were standing before the court to support the general assembly [of the Judges Club] and were surprised to see a large number of people approaching us," a witness was quoted as saying. "We thought they are from the Ultras [hardcore football fan groups] or other groups to support us. We welcomed them and applauded for them, but we were surprised when they began attacking us with weapons and threw tear gas bombs at us."
The Muslim Brotherhood has called for a mass demonstration in Cairo and other governorates on Tuesday to support Morsi's declaration, according to the group's website. Secular and liberal parties opposing the declaration have also called for protests on Tuesday, and tensions are feared.
Supporters of the Brotherhood will gather in Cairo's Abdeen Square, not in Tahrir Square.
The day after Morsi's declaration, tens of thousands of people took to streets in Cairo, just as they did during the 2011 uprising, and clashed with government troops leading to 140 people being injured in Cairo, Port Said and across the nation. Protesters also burned down offices of the Muslim Brotherhood's political wing in several cities.
The U.S. State Department on Friday called for calm and dialogue in Egypt, noting, "One of the aspirations of the revolution was to ensure that power would not be overly concentrated in the hands of any one person or institution." State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement that Morsi's declaration raises "concerns for many Egyptians and for the international community."
Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel laureate and head of Egypt's Constitution Party, called Morsi's grab of power "unprecedented." "It's unimaginable, it's more (power) than Mr. Mubarak ever had," CNN quoted him as saying. "This is the language of a dictator."
It raises concerns also for Egypt's Coptic Christians, who have faced numerous attacks after the ouster of President Mubarak last year. Mubarak, an authoritarian leader, kept Islamists under tight control. About 10 percent of the 80 million people in Egypt are Christians, mostly Copts.