CAIRO — Egypt's two highest appeals courts suspended their work Wednesday to protest presidential decrees that gave the country's Islamist leader Mohammed Morsi nearly absolute powers, state television reported.
Judges of the Cassation Court decided in an emergency meeting that they will not return to work until Morsi rescinds his decrees, according to state TV. The country's lower appeals court also decided Wednesday to stop work nationwide.
The move followed a defiant statement by the Supreme Constitutional Court that rejected charges made by Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood that it is working to bring down his government.
The developments are likely to stoke the political turmoil triggered by Morsi when he issued a constitutional declaration on Thursday that placed him above oversight of any kind, including by the courts, and extended similar protection to parliament's lower chamber and a 100-member panel drafting a new constitution.
The constitutional court, which was not included in the suspension, is due to rule Sunday on the legality of the two bodies, which are dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists. A ruling, regardless of which way it goes, would constitute a direct challenge to Morsi, who took office in June as Egypt's first freely elected president but has enraged pro-democracy activists who claim he is acting too much like the authoritarian leader he replaced.
The court ruled in June to dissolve parliament's lower chamber, also dominated by Islamists, a decision that Morsi and his Islamist allies described as part of a “conspiracy” to bring down the regime.
A strike by the appeals courts and the rare criticism of the president contained in the Supreme Constitutional Court's statement come a day after at least 200,000 people gathered at Cairo's Tahrir square to protest Morsi's decrees, which also gave him unlimited powers to “protect” the nation.
The size of the protest was reminiscent of some of the larger rallies held in the square during the 18-day uprising that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak's authoritarian regime nearly two years ago. Clashes between some protesters and police continued Wednesday.
The liberal opposition has said it would not enter a dialogue with the president about the country's latest political crisis before Morsi rescinded his decrees. They plan another massive rally on Friday.