Egypt's Top Court Suspends Work to Protest Islamist Pressure

Reactions to Islamist President Mohamed Morsi's recent power grab and now a planned constitutional referendum reached a new high Sunday after Egypt's top court suspended all work indefinitely to protest "psychological pressures," and judges said they will not supervise the upcoming vote.

"The judges of the Supreme Constitutional Court have no choice but to declare to the great Egyptian people that they are unable to perform their sacred mission in light of the current charged situation," the state-run MENA news agency quoted the court as saying in a statement on Sunday.

The court's move came after supporters of Morsi, who is from the Muslim Brotherhood, forced judges to postpone significant rulings, including on the legitimacy of the body responsible to draft the country's constitution, and on whether to dissolve the upper house of parliament.

The court called Sunday a "dismal, black day" for the judiciary, criticizing Morsi's supporters for blocking entrances and "with some of them on top of the walls while chanting slogans that denounce the judiciary and inciting people against the judges." The court declared that its judges will get back to work only after they can function "without any psychological or physical pressures."

Also on Sunday, Judges Club, an influential body of judges from around the country, said they will not supervise a national referendum on the constitution planned for Dec. 15 to protest Morsi's move to push a draft charter that secular parties do not approve of, Egypt Independent reported. The Club's decision is not binding, but a significant number of judges have supported its move.

Saturday's announcement about the referendum infuriated a large section of the Egyptian people who had been holding demonstrations against Morsi's Nov. 22 declaration that no one, including the judiciary, can challenge the decisions he has taken since assuming office in June, or will take until a new constitution is in place. After the declaration, tens of thousands of people took to streets in Cairo, just as they did during the 2011 uprising.

The nation's Coptic Church earlier officially withdrew from the Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has called on Morsi to revise the draft and remove provisions that are against international human rights conventions.

Morsi's Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, on Sunday praised the judiciary's independence from the executive branch but while underlining the need for reforms.

The U.S. State Department has expressed concerns over Morsi's moves, 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 earlier said that Morsi's declaration that his decisions cannot be revoked by any authority in the country raises "concerns for many Egyptians and for the international community."

Egypt's Coptic Christians have faced numerous attacks after the ouster of President Mubarak last year. Mubarak, an authoritarian leader, kept Islamists under tight control.

Morsi's opponents are now planning more protests on Tuesday to give the president "the final warning."