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The Muslim Brotherhood called for significant demonstrations last Saturday in “support” of President Mohamed Morsi’s recent decisions of President Morsi. Setting aside the many other issues surrounding these demonstrations, what gives me the most pause is the banner under which his supporters marched: “Legitimacy and Sharia.” The religious terms of the demonstrations resonated deeply, and tens of thousands of people gathered in front of Cairo University, their chants calling for the application and defense of Sharia. The blame here does not fall on the masses, all but dragged out in service of certain prominent political leaders. Rather, we should blame those very politicians, whose appeal to Sharia in this way can only be described as a coercive manipulation of public sentiment.

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In short, when the Muslim Brotherhood wanted to gather as large a crowd as possible; it was as easy as unfurling a banner calling for the application of Sharia. This is despite the fact that Brotherhood leaders know full well that the real issue is the (un)Constitutional Declaration the President recently issued and nothing more. The Brotherhood is using Islam as a wedge in this political conflict for short-term political gain. Egyptian society today is already struggling with gridlocked political strife; and behavior like this on the part of the Brotherhood will absolutely worsen Egypt’s political state of affairs.

While on the topic of the Muslim Brotherhood’s demonstration, it would be remiss not to mention the demonstrators who surrounded the Supreme Constitutional Courthouse and prevented its judges from entering. The timing coincided with the December 2nd session during which the constitutionality of the Constituent Assembly and Shura Council would be considered. The real importance of the session, however, went beyond these two lawsuits. The Constitutional Court’s ruling would have clarified its stance on the November 22 decree. Ruling on the constitutionality of these two bodies would have, by extension, required it to address the recent constitutional declaration, either by assenting to or overturning it.Moreover, surrounding the courthouse represents a dangerous turning point in Egyptian politics. It is evidence of a political faction aiming to impose its own will by force. This faction imagines it has a logical right to do so, a logic based on the assumption that its mandate comes from society. But using this power play to forcefully resolve our populations’ differences will have catastrophic effects. By intending, and ultimately succeeding, to keep the court from doing its work, a serious crime has been committed, one that should rightly worry any nation that respects the rule of law. I cannot understand the silence of the President and Prime Minister in the face of such a shameful incident. Clearly, it is not a crisis that merits consideration in their eyes – a fact which I believe calls into question the government’s very legitimacy.

The President has appeared three times in the past few days. Most notable in these appearances is not what he said, but rather the fact that he completely ignored the judges’ response to his (un)constitutional declaration. In his latest speech, Morsi repeated the same platitudes about the judges, but did not address the ongoing judicial crisis.

Before the final speech, the judges in the Court of First Instance, the Court of Appeals, and the Court of Cassation responded by suspended their work in opposition – an unprecedented act in the history of the Egyptian judiciary. The President could think of nothing to say except to repeat his tired mantra of respect for the judiciary and its judges, even though his hostility towards the entire institution is obvious. Worse than his words is the fact that the President has not taken a single real step towards resolving this crisis, one that is quickly worsening. Quite the contrary: he has instead called for a referendum on his draft constitution, calling upon Egyptians to vote in less than fourteen days, an undertaking that is impossible without the direct supervision of the judiciary. Is it right, politically or socially, to hold a referendum amid a crisis that has become so violent, essentially a vote between two constitutional branches of power (the judicial and the executive)? Insisting on a referendum in these circumstances will only further antagonize and polarize judges, encouraging the very kind of judicial involvement in politics that must be stopped in order to reverse the direction of this crisis.

Yussef Auf is an Egyptian judge and 2012 Humphrey Fellow at American University’s Washington College of Law. He is currently pursuing a PhD in Constitutional Law and Political Systems at Cairo University. He can be reached at [email protected] 

Photo Credit: Reuters

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