Egypt's constitutional panel expels protesting members as judges go on strike

The political crisis in Egypt escalated over the last 24 hours, with moves on both sides showing a widening gulf between the promise of a democratic revolution and the reality of an Islamist power grab.  Mohamed Morsi’s constitutional assembly, controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist allies, voted this morning to boot 11 dissenting members who had refused to attend sessions in protest over the direction of the panel:

Liberal members of the panel have withdrawn to protest what they say is the hijacking of the process by Islamists loyal to Morsi. The panel’s president, Hossam al-Ghiryani, began Thursday’s session by ordering a vote by a show of hands to dismiss 11 members he said exceeded the number of sessions they are allowed to miss without risking dismissal.

The vote was overwhelmingly in favor of their dismissal and substitute members stepped in to fill their place.

The 11, who included former foreign minister and presidential candidate Amr Moussa, liberal politician Waheed Abdel-Maguid and two Christians, are among as many as 30 members who have pulled out in protest over recent weeks.

The panel is trying to get the new constitution in place before the nation’s top court can dissolve it:

An Islamist-dominated panel tasked to write a new constitution for Egypt began voting on Thursday on the document’s final draft, a move likely to stoke a widening political crisis over decrees giving the nation’s Islamist president near absolute powers.

Fast tracking the process is aimed at pre-empting a possible ruling on Sunday by the Supreme Constitutional Court to dissolve the constitutional assembly. The court will also rule on the legitimacy of parliament’s upper chamber, also dominated by Islamists. The lower chamber, the lawmaking People’s Assembly, was dissolved by the same court in June.

However, the judges might not be around anyway.  In a blow to Morsi’s standing, the judges of Egypt’s most prominent courts walked out in protest over the power grab by the new President and his Islamist allies:

In an escalation of the tug-of-war between Egypt’s president and the powerful judiciary, judges in the country’s top courts went on strike Wednesday to protest Mohammed Morsi’s seizure of near absolute powers, while Islamists rushed to complete a new constitution, the issue at the heart of the dispute.

The moves came a day after at least 200,000 protesters filled Cairo’s central Tahrir Square to denounce the decrees Morsi issued last week, which place him above oversight of any kind, including by the courts.

However, that top court plans to stick around at least until Sunday, just to deal with Morsi’s “constitution”:

In a sign the dispute may take a sharp turn, the Supreme Constitutional Court said in a statement that it will go ahead with plans to rule Sunday on whether to dissolve the assembly writing the new constitution, which is dominated by the Brotherhood and its Islamist allies.

“The court is determined to rise above its pain and continue its sacred mission until the end, wherever that takes us,” Maher Sami, the high court’s deputy chairman, said in a televised speech.

Morsi and his allies plan to call for a nationwide referendum on the new constitution in an effort to moot the court’s power over the panel.  Presumably, that won’t stop the court from making a ruling, since Egypt can’t hold a plebescite in the next three days, but the move would allow Morsi to argue that the people should make the decision whether to back the new constitution rather than the judges.  However, thanks to Western insistence on holding quick elections in the wake of Hosni Mubarak’s forced departure, the only political parties organized well enough for national elections are the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies.

The Boss Emeritus warned that this is a blueprint that the Muslim Brotherhood has waited decades to implement, and it has one outcome in mind:

Referring to Egypt’s recently-elected President Mohammed Morsi who asserted himself near-absolute powers, Malkin charged, “If you want to know what the blueprint for an Islamic caliphate enabled by Western ignoramuses looks like, look at Egypt now.” She concluded, “They’re playing America’s leaders for fools.”

And their own people, although the latter seems to be more awake to the danger than the former.