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Blocked by Islamist crowds, Egypt's top court suspends work

Supporters of President Morsi prevented judges Sunday from entering the courthouse where they were set to rule on the legitimacy of a disputed constitutional assembly.

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A demonstrator chants slogans as several thousand supporters of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi surrounded the Supreme Constitutional Court on Sunday to prevent the judges from entering and ruling on the legitimacy of the nation's Islamist-dominated constituent assembly. A ruling from the court was postponed — but regardless of which way it goes — would be a direct challenge to Morsi, who last month gave himself near absolute powers.

Ahmad Hammad/AP

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Egypt's top court said it was suspending its work indefinitely to protest "psychological and physical pressures" after supporters of the country's Islamist president prevented judges from entering the courthouse Sunday to rule on the legitimacy of a disputed constitutional assembly.

The court's decision is the latest turn in a worsening political crisis pitting President Mohammed Morsi and his Islamist allies against the mostly secular opposition. The standoff began when Morsi issued a package of decrees on Nov. 22 that gave him sweeping powers and extended immunity from the courts to a panel tasked with drafting a new constitution. (For more on why the draft constitution is so controversial, see our explainer.)

The Islamist-dominated panel then raced in a marathon session last week to vote on the new charter's 230 clauses without the participation of liberal and Christian members. The fast-track hearing preempted a decision expected from the court on Sunday on whether to dissolve the committee – a ruling the judges postponed on Sunday.

Morsi on Saturday announced a referendum on the draft charter for Dec. 15, despite opposition protests and questions about the document's legitimacy.

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