Egypt judicial council to oversee referendum

Mon Dec 3, 2012 12:01pm EST
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By Tom Perry and Marwa Awad

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's Supreme Judicial Council has cleared the way for a referendum on a new constitution which President Mohamed Mursi hopes will end a political crisis that has split the country.

Some judges had called for their colleagues to shun the December 15 plebiscite, which must be supervised by the judiciary like all elections in Egypt. But the council's decision suggests enough officials can be mobilized to oversee the vote.

"The Supreme Judicial Council has met and agreed to delegate judges to oversee the constitutional referendum," Mohamed Gadallah, a legal adviser to Mursi, told Reuters on Monday. State media also reported the decision of the council.

Gadallah said about 10,000 members of the judiciary are needed for the monitoring. These do not all have to be judges and could include officials in prosecutors' offices for example.

"This moves Mursi closer to credible judicial supervision of the referendum but probably will do little to reassure his opponents of the legitimacy of the process, beginning from the formation of the constitutional assembly," said Elijah Zarwan, a fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Judicial dissent has complicated the Islamist leader's effort to end the crisis over Egypt's political transition by driving through a new constitution in a snap vote in a drafting assembly dominated by his Islamist supporters.

The influential but unofficial Judges Club had called on Sunday for a boycott of the referendum which Mursi hopes will douse anger over a decree he issued on November 22, expanding his powers and temporarily putting himself above judicial review.

Such a boycott, even if not all judges joined it, could undermine the credibility of the plebiscite and worsen disputes that have plagued Egypt's path to political change since a popular revolt overthrew Hosni Mubarak nearly 22 months ago.   Continued...

A supporter of Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi gestures during a rally in front of the Supreme Constitutional Court in Maadi, south of Cairo, December 2, 2012. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh