19 - 25 August 1999
Issue No. 443
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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Foot-dragging on the BarBy Mona El-Nahhas
The Cairo Court of Appeals ruled on 13 July that the three-year sequestration of the Bar Association should be ended, but the government has so far failed to implement the court order. Lawyers blame the government's inaction on Justice Minister Farouk Seif El-Nasr, alleging that he does not want association council elections to take place.
According to lawyers, Seif El-Nasr is refusing to form an interim judicial committee which should take charge of the association by virtue of the court's order. But the minister informed lawyers that he has to wait until 21 August when the Court of Urgent Matters hears a request by Ahmed Reda Ghatwari, one of the custodians, for a halt of the implementation of the ruling of the Appeals Court.
Last Thursday, the Court of Appeals issued an explanation of its July ruling, making it clear that the minister of justice is responsible for forming the judicial committee, which should make preparations for elections within six months. The court said the minister should immediately take the measures necessary for implementing its ruling, or else he would be violating the law.
Lawyers believe that the government will not allow elections to take place ahead of a presidential referendum scheduled for 26 September. As a result, they decided not to take any "revolutionary" action before that date, but rather wait and see how the government will act after the referendum. If the government does not change its attitude, lawyers will use all legal channels to pressure it to take action. A lawyer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Al-Ahram Weekly that lawyers would initiate legal action against the minister before the misdemeanours courts if he continued to ignore the ruling of the Appeals Court.
"We cannot stand helpless, while Ghatwari continues to dispense our money without any controls," said Islamist lawyer Fatema Rabie, who had brought the lawsuit with the Appeals Court for ending the sequestration. Rabie and a group of other lawyers have submitted a complaint with Prosecutor-General Maher Abdel-Wahid, seeking an investigation of Ghatwari for alleged financial irregularities.
Hassan El-Mahdi, another custodian, filed a similar complaint with a prosecutor in charge of protecting public funds.
Differences between the three custodians reached a climax last week, with an angry Ghatwari asking his colleagues to give up their posts. El-Mahdi told the Weekly that Ghatwari had "vowed never to leave the syndicate, claiming that he has the backing of top state officials".
El-Mahdi said he would attend the 21 August court session and submit a memorandum refuting Ghatwari's argument for halting the implementation of the decision of the Appeals Court.
Prominent lawyer Raga'i Atteya, who is said to be the government's candidate for the post of syndicate chairman, described Ghatwari's behaviour as irresponsible, declaring that it should be the subject of investigation. Atteya said that Ghatwari should take part in reviving the syndicate's independence, instead of standing alone and challenging the will of more than 200,000 lawyers. Atteya said that he had met with the justice minister before the Appeals Court issued last Thursday's explanation and that the minister had promised to form the judicial committee very soon, viewing this as the only way out of the Bar Association's crisis.
Moukhtar Nouh, treasurer of the dissolved Islamist-controlled council, criticised government policy, saying: "While the government hastened to enforce the ruling that imposed judicial sequestration on the Bar Association three years ago, it is ignoring nine court orders that the sequestration should be ended."
Nouh, charging that the government was keen on undermining democracy at the association, added: "The government will not allow free elections to take place because it fears that the Muslim Brotherhood will constitute a majority in any elected council. We are eager to see all political trends represented, but the government does not believe us."
Nouh believes that the "will of the majority of lawyers will win eventually" and that elections will take place.