CAIRO -- Egypt’s highest court Wednesday went on the offensive against President Mohamed Morsi, saying it would not be intimidated by “blackmail” and indicating it would soon rule on whether to dissolve the Islamist-led constitutional assembly, which Morsi has vowed to protect.
The comments by the Supreme Constitutional Court increased the pressure in the struggle over the separation of powers and set the country on unpredictable legal and political terrain. Street protests against the president echoed across the nation as Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood requested that the army guard its offices, which have been ransacked and burned in several cities.
The court’s stance is a direct challenge to Morsi, who last week stunned Egyptians by placing his office and the constitutional assembly above judicial oversight. The president’s credibility would be further damaged if the court rules to nullify the assembly, which has been boycotted by liberals and non-Muslims for leaning toward Sharia law at the expense of civil rights.
The constitutional “court will not be intimidated, blackmailed or threatened and we will not be subjected to any pressure regardless of how strong this pressure is. We are united,” court spokesman Maher Samy told reporters while Egypt braced for demonstrations that have echoed the passions of protests last year that brought down longtime leader Hosni Mubarak.
The court’s statement means the judges “will tend to their work regardless of what happens,” said Ahmed Ibrahim Ismail, an appeals court lawyer. “It seems that they will remain defiant because they have the people’s support. The people are rejecting Morsi’s declaration because it essentially turns the president into a godly figure.”
The public backlash against Morsi, whose power decree has been criticized by his justice minister and several aides, is widening and threatening the running of the government. The Appeals Court announced its judges and lawyers would suspend their duties, joining a nationwide strike by other judges.
But Morsi remains defiant in an ominous test of wills between Islamists and opposition parties. Tensions long suppressed under Mubarak are now central to defining the nation’s political character. Tweets from the Brotherhood set a mood of battle: “no turning back, decree is staying, those not willing to reach to a point of stability will be held accountable to God & history.”