Egypt's judicial hot potato game

For weeks now, Egypt has waited for a verdict by the administrative court on the validity of the Constituent Assembly (CA) currently drafting a new constitution. Just a few minutes ago, it was announced that the administrative court has referred the matter to the Supreme Constitutional Court, the highest court in Egypt.

As a reminder, the current CA is the second to be formed, by negotiations that ended in mid-June. The parliament approved the law forming the CA the day before it was dissolved by the Supreme Constitutional Court, and although Mohammed Morsi ratified this law a few weeks after he took office, the legitimacy of the assembly is still contested by secularists — either because they feel it should not be formed based on a model from a dissolved parliament, or because they object to its composition. Dozens of lawsuits have been filed against the CA, largely as a secular tactic to have the courts shut down a constitution-writing process in which Islamists dominate.

The secularists' hope is that once the CA is dissolved, Morsi will use the power he gave himself on August 12 to appoint a new CA, which would be largely the same. And then the secularists plan to file more lawsuits arguing that Morsi does not have that right. Ultimately, they rely on the courts to take their sides.

Now that it's in the Supreme Constitutional Court's camp, they might take heart. That court's decisions have generally not been in favor of the Islamists. But at the same time, they see themselves as having a mission to avoid a vacuum. For this path ultimately points to either a political deal on the constitution, or, a complete breakdown in the transition process in Egypt, at least when it comes to the constitution.

As Elijah Zarwan tweeted:



Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region,