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Egypt’s High Court Suspends Work as Political Crisis Deepens

Egypt’s top judges suspended work indefinitely after Islamist supporters of President Mohammed Morsi swarmed the highest court yesterday, chanting “We will not leave!” shouting insults and blocking the judges from entering on the day they had been expected to dissolve the country’s Islamist-dominated constitution-writing panel.

In a statement from the Supreme Constitutional Court that underlined the increasingly personal conflict between Morsi and the judiciary, the judges described a campaign of “moral assassination” against them and said an “environment charged with hatred and malice and the need for revenge” led to yesterday’s “appalling and shameful scene.”

The 19 judges – appointed during the regime of President Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted nearly two years ago – said they would suspend work until they were able to continue “without being subject to moral or physical pressure.”

It was another day in Egypt’s rocky, emotionally charged democratic transition, one in which the revolutionaries who drove out Mubarak are increasingly divided, with Islamists on one side and liberals, secularists – and, increasingly, the judiciary – on the other in the quest to forge a modern identity.

Morsi, who is backed by the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, has been in a power struggle with the judiciary since his election in June. The high court dissolved the democratically elected Islamist-majority parliament just as Morsi was taking office, severely curtailing his power. And the judges had been widely expected yesterday to dissolve the constitution-drafting assembly, dominated by Islamists.

But Morsi has pushed back hard, issuing a constitutional decree Nov. 22 that places nearly all his actions temporarily beyond judicial review.

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