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Egyptian Courts Backtrack on Vow to Boycott Referendum

Protests continue by supporters and opponents of Morsi constitution

Common Dreams staff

Supporters of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi chant slogans as riot police, left, stand guard in front of the entrance of Egypt’s top court, in Cairo, Egypt, on Sunday. (Photo; AP/Nasser Nasser)

Despite reports on Sunday that Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court had suspended work indefinetly after a large group of President Mohamed Morsi's supporters protested, denying judges access to the courtroom, the BBC and Russian Times report Monday that Egypt's top judicial body will oversee a Dec. 15 referendum on a draft constitution and decree issued by Morsi.

Amnesty International found the draft constitution "falls well short of protecting human rights and, in particular, ignore the rights of women, restricts freedom of expression in the name or protecting religion and allows for the military trial of civilians."

On Sunday, the court said it would not convene until judges could operate without "psychological and material pressure," referring to protesters who they say kept the judges from entering the building.

Morsi supporters camped outside the court through the night in anticipation of the court session, which would have scrutinized the legality of the country's current upper house in parliament and the assembly that drafted the new constitution.

The Judges' Club, a powerful but unofficial group representing judges, urged members to boycott the vote, but Morsi's legal advisor, Mohamed Gadallah, told AFP news that the Supreme Judicial Council had "agreed to delegate judges to oversee the constitutional referendum," according to the BBC.

This essentially means the threat of a judges' boycott is "over," he said — a critical element of the referendum since Gadallah said about 10,000 judges would need to oversee the referendum process.

But a BBC correspondent reports that it now appears the judges are divided.

Morsi announced the Dec. 15 referendum on Saturday, prompting about 50,000 anti-Morsi protesters to rally in Tahrir Square.

But McClatchy Newspapers reported that on Sunday, rallies by hundreds of thousands of pro-Morsi, Muslim Brotherhood protesters dwarfed Saturday's anti-Morsi demonstrations by secularists, liberals and Christians who oppose Morsi's recent decree.

The BBC reports Monday:

Protesters have returned to Tahrir Square in Cairo—the centre of the unrest which ousted former President Hosni Mubarak last year—and it remains unclear what level of participation there will be in the referendum.

Egypt's judges have been among the strongest opponents of President Morsi's recent decisions, including his issuing of a decree which extended his powers and stripped the judiciary of the right to challenge his decisions.

Opponents of Morsi said they would protest again on Tuesday against the decree — and called the protests "the final warning," CNN reports.

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