On the judges' elections
Mohamed Sid-Ahmed discusses the significance of last week's elections at the Judges Club
Now that the dust has settled following what were unquestionably the most turbulent parliamentary elections in Egypt's recent history, it is time to draw lessons from the experience if we are to avoid a similar scenario in the future.
The results of the elections speak volumes about the aspirations of the Egyptian people for genuine reform and reflect their disenchantment with the ruling party's failure to deliver on its promises. The poor showing of the NDP, which struggled to secure a 70 per cent majority -- the lowest ever in its history -- and the amazing victory of the Muslim Brotherhood, which won 20 per cent of the seats, impose the need to reorganise our priorities in face of the new political reality.
Perhaps the most important lesson to be drawn from the elections is the need to give top priority to the fight against corruption, which has reached epidemic proportions and poses a threat not only to the moral fibre of society but to its financial resources. The current cases against Ihab Talaat, Abdel-Rahman Hafez and Magdi Ya'qoub Nassif, who embezzled millions before they were caught, are just two of many such examples.
In electoral battles in general, there is a close relationship between violations of the law and the spread of corruption, and it is only by insisting on a strict adherence to the letter and spirit of the law, whatever the obstacles and difficulties, that corruption can be exposed. Because elections generally bespeak change and renewal, they generate a dynamic conducive to the attainment of such an objective. This dynamic took concrete form in the role played by the Egyptian judiciary in the recent parliamentary elections.
Last Friday, hundreds of judges converged on the Judges Club to elect a new chairman. Their decision to reelect former Chairman Zakareya Abdel-Aziz and his team, who were openly critical of the irregularities that marred the parliamentary elections, reflects their determination to assert the total independence of the judicial branch of government from the executive authority. As guarantors of the sovereignty of the law, the judges were called upon to play an essential role in the parliamentary elections. It was they, and not the police, who were charged with monitoring the elections to ensure they were free and fair.
The unequivocal victory scored by Abdel-Aziz and his team, who make up what is known as the 'iron list', marks a watershed in the strained relations between the judicial and executive branches. The demands of the winning candidate are encapsulated in such catchy slogans as "change must go on", "the emergency law must be repealed" and "the dignity of the judiciary must be protected".
The electoral battle for the chairmanship of the Judges Club was a fierce one, not least because the platforms on which the candidates ran were not limited to protecting the professional interests of club members but extended to include demands touching on national interests usually determined by the executive branch of government.
While its success in securing a comfortable majority in parliament means that the NDP does not need the support of any other party to get its bills passed and its policies implemented, the price of success has been exorbitant. Scores of court actions moving for the nullity of the elections have been filed against the government, one of the most prominent of which was brought by national specialised councils member Mahmoud Abdel-Latif El-Sawy. In his statement of claim, Mr El-Sawy cited several reasons entailing a judgement of nullity, first and foremost that allowing members of an illegal party to run, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), invalidated the whole process. Moreover, he added, electoral lists were fraudulent, vote-buying was rampant and the casting and counting of ballots conducted in a highly irregular manner.
The implication here is that the election should be repeated nationwide, a demand the government is unlikely to respond to gracefully. However, the government need not differ with the judges on all the issues of contention, especially with their club which has a long history of independence and pro-democracy stands. For example, agreement can be reached over the judiciary's demands for higher salaries. This is currently under discussion, and an offer of granting a monthly allowance of 1000 for senior judges to 200 pounds for assistant judges is said to be on the table.
In the meantime, relations between the Judges Club and the state are still extremely tense. The feud acquired new dimensions when the chairman of the club complained to the Public Prosecutor that a so-called 'black book' full of invectives and insults was being circulated among members.
Reservations about the parliamentary elections are no longer limited to Egyptians alone, but are now expressed by foreigners as well, basing themselves on Egyptian official statements and documents. Germany's ambassador to Cairo, Martin Koblar, openly expressed his doubts as to their legality on the grounds that there was only a 26 per cent turnout. The ambassador also criticised the low representation of women and Copts, saying that it defied all logic to see a parliament made up of 454 seats comprising only five women and four Copts. He added that while Germany welcomed the plurality of parties in Egypt, he personally opposed the creation of an Islamic (meaning religious) party in Egypt. Nevertheless, the Muslim Brotherhood is present in Germany because Berlin is interested in having close relations with the Arab countries. While there is a division within the European Union over whether the Muslim Brotherhood should be recognised or not, he personally believed that they should, given that it is the will of the people.
In conclusion, the outcome of the Judges Club elections should not be regarded as a negative development but quite the opposite. No society can function while its judges are in a state of defiance and insubordination, and the current crisis between the judicial and executive branches of the Egyptian government must be speedily resolved. Judges, by definition, are reasonable people and a segment of the population which, taken collectively, is more likely than others to behave wisely.