* Islamist protest forces court to postpone session
* Mursi calls Dec. 15 on controversial constitution
* As opposition cries foul, stock market climbs
By Tamim Elyan and Tom Perry
CAIRO, Dec 2 Protests by Islamists allied to
President Mohamed Mursi forced Egypt's highest court to postpone
a session set to examine cases that could further complicate the
country's political crisis.
The Supreme Constitutional Court did not say when it would
reschedule hearings in cases examining both the legality of the
upper house of parliament and the assembly that drafted the new
constitution, both bodies dominated by Islamists.
The cases add uncertainty to the crisis ignited by a Nov. 22
decree that temporarily expanded Mursi's powers, triggering
countrywide protests and violence that has deepened the rift
between newly empowered Islamists and their opponents.
Three people have been killed and hundreds injured. The wave
of street protests continued on Saturday with a protest by at
least 200,000 Mursi supporters at Cairo University. Mursi's
opponents are staging an open-ended sit-in in Cairo's Tahrir
Square, the cradle of the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak.
Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood which propelled him to
power in a June election hope to end the crisis by passing the
new constitution that that was wrapped up on Friday. Mursi
received the constitution on Saturday and immediately called a
Dec. 15 referendum, urging all Egyptians to go out and vote.
"The Muslim Brotherhood is determined to go ahead with its
own plans regardless of everybody else. There is no compromise
on the horizon," said Hassan Nafaa, a professor of political
science at Cairo University.
The constitution, he said, would likely be approved by a
slim majority. "But in this case, how can you run a country with
a disputed constitution - a constitution not adopted by
consensus?" he said.
Outside the Supreme Constitutional Court, hundreds of Muslim
Brotherhood supporters gathered through the night. "Yes to the
constitution", declared a banner held aloft by one pro-Mursi
protester. Chants demanded the "purging of the judiciary".
The protest reflected the deep suspicion harboured by
Egypt's Islamists towards a court they see as a vestige of the
Mubarak era. The same court ruled in June to dissolve the Muslim
Brotherhood-led lower house of parliament.
Since then, an array of legal challenges have cast a shadow
over both the upper house of parliament and the 100-member
Cases against the upper house have focused on the legality
of the law by which it was elected, while the constitutional
assembly has faced a raft of court cases alleging that the way
it was picked was illegal.
STOCK MARKET RALLIES
Mursi believes that securing approval for the new
constitution in a popular referendum will bury all arguments on
the legality of the constituent assembly or the controversy over
the text it worked through the night to finish on Friday.
It will also override the controversial Nov. 22 decree that
triggered statements of concern from Western governments and a
rebellion by sections of the judiciary that saw it as a threat
to their role: the decree shielded Mursi from judicial
While the Islamists' critics including representatives of
the Christian minority have accused the Brotherhood of trying to
hijack the constitution, investors saw Mursi's moves as a
harbinger of stability.
The main stock market index, which lost a tenth of
its value in response to Mursi's Nov. 22 decree, stood 2.6
percent higher after the market opened on Sunday.
"The events that took place through the weekend, from the
approval of the final draft of the constitution and the
president calling a referendum, gave some confidence to
investors that political stability is on track," said Mohamed
Radwan of Pharos Securities, an Egyptian brokerage.
But the political opposition made up of leftist, liberal and
social parties have been infuriated by what they see as the
Brotherhood's attempt to ram through a constitution that does
not enjoy national consensus.
Mursi's opponents warn of deeper polarisation ahead.
"LET EVERYONE HAVE THEIR SAY"
Leading opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei said on Twitter
that "struggle will continue". He said the draft constitution
"undermines basic freedoms."
Liberal figures including former Arab League chief Amr
Moussa pulled out of the constituent assembly last month, as did
representatives of Egypt's Christian minority.
The draft constitution contains Islamist-flavoured language
which opponents say could be used to whittle away human rights
and stifle criticism. It forbids blasphemy and "insults to any
person", does not explicitly uphold women's rights and demands
respect for "religion, traditions and family values".
The New York-based Human Rights Watch said it protected some
rights while undermining others.
The text limits presidents to two four-year terms, requires
parliamentary approval for their choice of prime minister, and
introduces some civilian oversight of the military - although
not enough for critics.
Mursi described it as a constitution that fulfilled the
goals of the Jan. 25, 2011 revolution that brought an end to
Mubarak's rule. "Let everyone - those who agree and those who
disagree - go to the referendum to have their say," he said.
The Islamists are gambling that they will be able to secure
a "yes" vote by mobilising their core support base and those
ordinary Egyptians keen for an end to two years of turmoil that
has taken a heavy toll on the economy.