CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's top court on Sunday postponed a session during which it was expected to rule on the legitimacy of the Islamist-dominated panel that rushed to approve a disputed draft constitution last week, according to officials at the court.
The officials cited "administrative reasons" for the delay, although the announcement came as several thousand supporters of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi surrounded the Supreme Constitutional Court, holding aloft placards denouncing the judges and preventing members of the judiciary from entering the Nile-side courthouse in Cairo.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media, did not know whether a new date has been set for the ruling, which is part of a worsening political crisis in Egypt pitting the largely secular opposition and powerful judiciary against Morsi and his fellow Islamists.
The MENA state news agency said the judges are expected to issue a statement later Sunday to explain their position.
The protesters began to gather outside the court on Saturday night and the officials said the judges did not show up at the court on Sunday out of fear for their safety.
In the past, Islamists have assaulted secular politicians, lawyers and activists outside court complexes as judges inside deliberated rulings anticipated to be against their interests.
Islamists say that the courts are filled with judges loyal to Hosni Mubarak's ousted regime. The Supreme Constitutional Court ruled in June to dissolve the Islamist-dominated People's Assembly, parliament's lawmaking lower chamber, on the grounds that a third of its members were illegally elected.
Besides ruling on the legitimacy of the constituent assembly, the court was also expected Sunday to rule on parliament's upper chamber, also dominated by Islamists.
A ruling from the court — regardless of which way it goes — would be a direct challenge to Morsi, who last month gave himself near absolute powers, placing himself and the assembly above any oversight, including by the judiciary.
Morsi's decrees caused an uproar among the nation's secular-led opposition. Further stoking the anger, the constituent assembly last week rushed through a vote on the charter's 230 clauses in an all-night session.
The panel's chairman, Islamist Hossam al-Ghiryani, kept the voting at a rapid clip, badgering members to drop disputes and objections and move on. At times the process appeared slap-dash, with fixes to missing phrasing and even several entirely new articles proposed, written and voted on in the hours just before sunrise.
The panel's secular and Christian members have withdrawn from the panel over recent weeks, claiming that the process has been hijacked by the Islamists. But Morsi, in power since June, praised the draft as a giant step toward democratic rule and ordered a nationwide referendum on the document to be held Dec. 15.
Tens of thousands of his supporters staged rallies across much of the country on Saturday. The gatherings were in part a response to large protests by the opposition on Tuesday and Friday. The opposition is now considering a call for civil disobedience to force Mrosi to rescind his decrees.