Egypt is in turmoil, with secular forces facing Islamic forces in the streets, and mobs gathering outside the High Court:
But the credibility of the referendum was questioned when the national Judges Club indicated late Sunday that the judiciary might not supervise the balloting. Another pressing concern was whether the military, which ruled the nation after Mubarak's downfall in 2011, would intervene. Morsi negotiated an agreement in August for the generals to exit politics, but the turmoil is certain to increase pressure on the military's role.
The protests at the Supreme Constitutional Court highlighted Egypt's widening political acrimony. A statement by the judges said a huge crowd that surrounded the courthouse and yelled out chants and slogans that "condemned judges" had forced the court's indefinite suspension. It added that protesters climbed over fences and that judges felt threatened in an atmosphere "charged with hatred and malice and the need for revenge."
Demonstrators from the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist organizations said they were not looking to harm the judges but to express their anger at a judiciary they increasingly mistrust. Hundreds of riot police officers guarded the court, and it appeared that the judges could have entered the building. Both the court and the Morsi government have portrayed themselves in recent months as victims of conspiracies and power plays orchestrated by the other side.
"We want President Morsi to dissolve the Supreme Constitutional Court because they are completely biased," said Khaled Mohamed Ali, a teacher and ultraconservative Islamist, standing outside the court and echoing comments made by Morsi days earlier. "A court must be fair and depoliticized."
But secular and liberal opposition movements across the country have been protesting against Morsi's power grab for more than a week, reviving the revolutionary fervor that brought down Mubarak in February 2011. Such opponents say that Morsi, who was elected in June, has made a sham of democracy and that the constitution raises the prospect that Islamic law could jeopardize civil rights.
The essence of the dispute is the nature of the constitutional changes being sought by President Morsi. The draft constitution is vague about the equality of women, vague about the power of religious leaders to overrule laws passed by the reformed parliament, and unclear on the protection of minorities.
If it is subjected to a referendum, and passes, its legitimacy will be suspect because of the manner of its drafting.
In the past, the people of Egypt have often looked to the Army as the ultimate protector of the rights of the people. We saw this when the crowds gathered to demand the resignation of Mubarak.
Morsi has shuffled the top leaders of the Army. The question now is whether the colonels will decide to step in and help resolve this perilous dispute over the future of the country.
Egyptians deserve a constitution which protects individual rights, protects the freedom of religion, gives women equality, and is fair to all. They have a civilization of some five millenia, a proud tradition of stability, and a deep love for their country, despite the harshness of its geography and uncertainty of its economic development.
The Western powers should make their voices heard, and help Egypt resolve this dangerous situation.