Backers of Morsi converge on court

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CAIRO — Egypt’s political crisis deepened over the weekend, as judges shut down the country’s highest court Sunday after crowds of Islamists backing the government surrounded the courthouse.

The judicial showdown followed massive protests in Cairo on Saturday when 100,000 people rallied in support of President Mohammed Morsi and demonstrations late last week when more than 200,000 opponents protested his seizure of vast powers and a draft constitution they fear will undermine civil rights.

On Sunday, supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood kept judges of the Supreme Constitutional Court from entering their courthouse, where they were expected to rule on the legitimacy of a committee charged with drafting Egypt’s new constitution.

“It is the Egyptian judiciary’s blackest day on record,” the court said in a written statement.

The court announced it was suspending its work until further notice to “protest psychological and physical pressure” from the Islamists, calling the scene of screaming protesters outside the courthouse, one of “shame and disgrace.”

The constitution was rushed through the drafting committee, called Constituent Assembly, on Friday in an attempt to pre-empt a court ruling. Voters will have chance to approve or reject the proposed charter in Dec. 15 referendum, Mr. Morsi announced Saturday.

Mazen Hassan, a political analyst in Cairo, described the country as now more split than ever before. Even if the constitution sails through the referendum, it will only make efforts to reconcile differences much more difficult, he said.

“[That] will be the major task of the coming months,” Mr. Hassan said. “Morsi or any president cannot rule such a divided country easily …”

Mr. Hassan added that he expects to see escalating tension and unrest in the next few weeks.

“The hope is that this does not really lead to clashes or violence between the two camps, but I think neither camp will back down or de-escalate or concede defeat,” he said.

Opposition groups have already announced they will march on the presidential palace in Cairo late Tuesday afternoon as a “final warning” to Mr. Morsi to rescind decrees he issued last month that greatly expanded his presidential powers. The opposition also wants a new Constituent Assembly with members that better represent the country’s political parties.

“This is a second revolution,” said Aysha Selim, who has raised funds to provide buses, tents and provisions to thousands protesters who came from around the country to Cairo’s central Tahrir Square last week and over the weekend.

“It’s a joke,” she added, referring to the “nonrepresentative” manner in which the constitution was drafted. “[It] is invalid.”

Mr. Mori’s supporters claim that the protesters in Tahrir Square backed the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak, who was overthrown in an Arab Spring uprising last year.

“I believe that 90 percent of the people in Tahrir are remnants of the former regime. They want to destroy this country,” said lawyer Mahmoud Awda.

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