Egypt's top court shuts down, blames Islamist protesters

CAIRO - Protests by Islamists allied to President Mohamed Mursi forced Egypt's highest court to adjourn its work indefinitely on Sunday, intensifying a conflict between some of the country's top judges and the head of state.

The Supreme Constitutional Court said it would not convene until its judges could operate without "psychological and material pressure", saying protesters had stopped the judges from reaching the building.

Several hundred Mursi supporters had protested outside the court through the night ahead of a session expected to examine the legality of parliament's upper house and the assembly that drafted a new constitution, both of them Islamist-controlled.

The cases have cast a legal shadow over Mursi's efforts to chart a way out of a crisis ignited by a November 22 decree that temporarily expanded his powers and led to nationwide protests against him and his Muslim Brotherhood group.

The court's decision to suspend its activities appeared unlikely to have any immediate impact on Mursi's drive to get the new constitution passed in a national referendum on December 15.

Judges supervise voting in Egypt, and Mursi will need them to oversee the referendum.

But in a blow to the president, an influential body representing judges decided on Sunday not to oversee the vote, the state news agency reported. The Judges' Club's decisions are not binding on members, however.

Vice President Mahmoud Mekky said on Sunday he was confident the judges would perform that role, despite calls by Mursi's critics in the judiciary for a boycott.

Three people have been killed and hundreds wounded in protests and counter-demonstrations over Mursi's decree.

At least 200,000 of Mursi's supporters attended a rally at Cairo University on Saturday. His opponents are staging an open-ended sit-in in Cairo's Tahrir Square, the cradle of the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.

The National Salvation Front, an alliance of liberal, leftist and socialist opposition groups, called for protests in Tahrir Square on Tuesday against Mursi holding the referendum on what it branded an "illegitimate constitution".

Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood, which propelled him to power in a June election, hope to end the crisis by pushing through the new constitution hastily adopted by the drafting assembly on Friday. The next day the assembly handed the text to Mursi, who called the referendum and urged Egyptians to vote.

"The Muslim Brotherhood is determined to go ahead with its own plans regardless of everybody else. There is no compromise on the horizon," said Hassan Nafaa, a professor of political science at Cairo University.

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