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Judges are on strike across the country, and the powerful judges union said Sunday that it would not oversee the referendum, as is customary.

However, the country’s highest judicial body, the Supreme Judiciary Council, agreed on Monday to oversee the voting in a step legal experts described as “routine” and not obligatory. And the electoral commission, led by senior judges, was forced by law to hold a meeting on Sunday to discuss preparations for the referendum.

Mr. Morsi’s legal adviser, Mohammed Gaballah, said the election commission began meeting on Sunday to organize the referendum.

The official Al-Akhbar daily ran a front-page picture of the senior judges at the meeting, and Mr. Gaballah claimed that the judges will oversee the vote.

But Judge Yousseri Abdel-Karim, a former spokesman of the electoral commission, said the commission’s mission is administrative and the meeting does not mean that judges are going to oversee the referendum.

“Judges don’t retreat and we fear nothing and we will not change our position,” he said.

Opposition figures have said they fear referendums because, in past votes, large numbers of voters, many of them illiterate, were easily swayed by Islamists who used religious sentiment for influence.

Voting for Egyptians abroad is set to start on Saturday. Expatriate Egyptian activists and groups in Britain called Mr. Morsi’s decree a blatant assault against the rule of law.