Egyptian protesters clash with security forces near Tahrir Square in Cairo on Wednesday.(Photo: Khalil Hamra, AP)
CAIRO -- An Islamist-dominated committee said it would vote Thursday
on a controversial draft of a new Egyptian constitution despite growing
protests against it and other power-grabs by President Mohammed Morsi.
U.S. Embassy in Cairo said it closed public services early on Thursday
because of protests that are blocking streets in Cairo, and "strongly
urged" U.S. citizens to avoid the area.
"Access into and from the
Embassy is currently blocked by protesters," said a statement on the
embassy website. "The Regional Security Office has instructed that no
departures or arrivals from the embassy will be permitted."
Islamist dominated government is apparently fast-tracking the approval
of a new constitution, one that is to be based on Islamic law, to head
off a possible ruling on Sunday by the Supreme Constitutional Court to
dissolve the constitutional assembly.
The move comes after
Egyptians angry over a decree that grants sweeping powers to the
president cheered Wednesday the decision by lower court judges to
suspend work until the decree is lifted.
"It's a very nice move
because we didn't expect the supreme judges of Egypt to move like this,"
said Maher Fouad, a retired pharmacist.
Judges with the high and
lower courts of appeal said they will not return to work to protest the
decree that gave Morsi nearly absolute powers, among them immunity from
having his decisions subject to judicial review, state television
A statement by the judges of the high appeals court,
known as the Court of Cassation, described Morsi's decrees as an
"unprecedented" assault on the judiciary and its principles that "defies
belief." It said the decision to stop work at all its circuits was also
unprecedented but justified by the "magnitude" of the crisis.
least 200,000 protesters filled Cairo's central Tahrir Square on Tuesday
to denounce the decree. The Muslim Brotherhood, backers of the Morsi
presidency, said it would hold nationwide demonstrations in support of
the decree on Saturday.
Mohamed El Mekkawi, a member of the
foreign relations department in the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and
Justice Party, said the work suspension is a "normal thing."
are in a transition period and in this transition period there are a lot
of problems concerning a lot of people, points of views... so this
influences how people will react," he said.
El Mekkawi said
opposition to the decree is not about the decree itself, but about
preventing the allies of ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak from hanging on
"It's about the old regime wanting to return again and say 'Morsi cannot be president anymore,'" he said.
of Morsi's supporters say the president had to issue the decree to
prevent the courts from trying to dissolve the nation's
Islamist-dominated constituent assembly, which is drafting a new
constitution that will call for some form of Islamic law.
courts dissolved the first constituent assembly and the
Islamist-dominated parliament in June based on legal arguments. Morsi's
new decree guarantees the assembly will stay in place - outraging some
who are displeased with the new draft constitution.
Members of the 100-member constitutional committee who opposed some of the Islamist demands walked out of the committee.
Mekkawi said that the decree is "like you are throwing a stone in stale
water," breaking the impasse over the drafting process.
blogger Ghaly Shafik said the courts suspended their work because judges
believe their interests are threatened. It doesn't mean the opposition
forces and the judges are united, he said.
The judges, "said
nothing during Mubarak's dictatorship, so why should I side with them
now? They didn't turn into angels overnight, so I don't care about what
they do," he said. "The only people who I trust are the people who took
to the streets yesterday."
Clashes between some protesters and
police continued Wednesday off Tahrir Square, near the U.S. Embassy. The
liberal opposition has said it would not enter a dialogue with the
president about the country's latest political crisis before Morsi
rescinded his decrees. Activists planned another massive rally on
"What happened yesterday - this is the real revolution," said Fouad about Tuesday's protest against the decree and Morsi.
can't resolve this problem until we reach a boiling point," Fouad said.
"But we don't want blood in the streets, but unfortunately I think
there will be."
The constitutional court was due to rule Sunday on
the legality of the lower chamber and the 100-member panel drafting a
new constitution. The court denounced Morsi's claim that it was part of a
"conspiracy" against him.
"The allegation that the (June) ruling
was reached in complicity with others to bring down elected state
institutions and consequently the state's collapse ... is incorrect and
untrue," the constitutional court said in a statement read by its deputy
chairman, Maher Sami, in a televised news conference.
is most saddening for the court's judges came when the president of the
republic joined, in a painful and cruel surprise, the continuing attacks
against the constitutional court," it said.