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“I support the president’s decisions. We must give him time.”

The Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Constituent Assembly, created in June, was already running into trouble when the political showdown escalated almost two weeks ago.

Secular and Christian Copt representatives walked out of the 100-member assembly in November after accusing Islamists of creating a draft charter that would undermine civil liberties and the rights of women and minorities.

Then on Nov. 22, Mr. Morsi issued decrees that vastly extended his powers. The action granted him, the upper house of parliament, known as the Shura Council, and the Constituent Assembly immunity from the judiciary.

He said the measures were necessary to keep the country moving forward in its political transition, and that more delays in drafting a constitution would set the country back.

Mr. Morsi, who in June became Egypt’s first freely elected president, told the country last week that “he will not allow anyone to derail the transition.”

The assembly worked feverishly until dawn Friday to approve 236 items in the draft constitution.

The new charter has secularists and human rights officials worried that it relies too much on Shariah, or Islamic law, and will restrict free speech and other civil liberties and leave minorities and women vulnerable. For example, it forbids “insults to persons and to prophets” and demands respect for “religion and family values.”

Critics also complain that the draft made concessions to the military by continuing to allow civilians to be tried in military courts. Some ultra-orthodox Muslims complained that it didn’t go far enough in its use of Shariah law.

The high court judges Sunday were expected to have ruled on the legality of the draft constitution and the Constituent Assembly, after the liberal and Coptic Christians members walked out.

However, the judges suspended their work after a crowd of hundreds of Mr. Mori’s supporters blocked the entrance to the courthouse.

“The judges of the Supreme Constitutional Court were left with no choice but to announce to the glorious people of Egypt that they cannot carry out their sacred mission in this charged atmosphere,” the judges said in a statement, saying they feared for their safety.

Most judges and prosecutors in the country have already been on strike for a week.

Analysts said the conflict is nothing less than a battle for the future of Egypt.

“You have an ideological confrontation, not just regarding the constitution, but on the nature of the state and the shape of the society,” says Tarek Osman, author of “Egypt on the Brink.”

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