A meeting with the EU raised the stakes between judges and the state, Mona El-Nahhas
In what is being seen as another challenge to the state, around 1,500 judges decided to meet a delegation from the European Union (EU) currently visiting Egypt. The encounter was held on Tuesday at the headquarters of the Judges Club.
Earlier in the week, the club's board members sent a letter to the Presidential Office and the Foreign Ministry informing them of the meeting, saying it did not mind if representatives from the two bodies were present. The club, after failing to receive a reply, decided, during Friday's general assembly of the Cairo Judges Club, to meet the delegation without waiting for official approval.
"The meeting will simply discuss the issue of judiciary independence and the guarantees required to achieve such independence, without digging into any political aspects," Judge Hisham Geneina told Al-Ahram Weekly on Monday.
Despite the acute financial crisis, judges clubs are passing through in the wake of a decision by Mamdouh Marei, the justice minister, to suspend the annual financial subsidy the ministry pays to these clubs, judges have said they will not accept any financial aid from foreign organisations. According to Geneina, the meeting with the EU will stress the point.
During Friday's general assembly, a large number of judges adamantly refused suggestions by some members of club boards to accept donations from foreign organisations. They were alarmed by the proposal, warning it would tarnish their credibility and neutrality.
As an alternative, the assembly decided to increase the monthly subscription fees of club members to LE20.
Observers say Marei's decision to suspend financial subsidy came immediately after he became justice minister in August, thus being one way of pressuring judges. This may explain why he promised on Saturday to pay the State Council's Judges Club, which was not party to the dispute between the state and judges, all its financial dues while adopting a tough stance towards the Cairo and Alexandria Judges Clubs, which have been leading the battle for judicial reform and independence.
The minister's promise to solve the financial problems of the State Council's Judges Club came a few days after its board members threatened to start taking a series of measures to protest against the minister's suspension of their financial subsidy. A sit- in and a lawsuit against the minister were suggested by the council.
Marei's pledge also aimed at preventing any possible coordination between the Judges Club and the State Council Judges Club.
During Friday's general assembly, it was decided that the two clubs would join forces in the lawsuit against Marei.
The meeting next day between Marei and judge Yehia Dakrouri, chairman of the State Council Judges Club, angered several of the club's board members who argued that Dakrouri should have consulted them first before meeting Marei.
Since becoming minister, Marei has consistently turned down invitations from judges clubs asking to meet him. Apparently, he felt it was time to change tactics, that instead of alienating judges it would be better to bring some on his side.
In a press release published last week, just one day before the general assembly elections, Marei said the ministry will start providing judges non-interest loans.
And on Monday, while inaugurating the Beni Sweif Courts Complex, he said all judges and workers will be given a one- month bonus.
During the inauguration, Marei denied any ministerial interference in the role played by judges clubs, saying that such a role was defined by the clubs' internal statutes.
Beside tackling the club's crisis with Marei, the assembly discussed the judges' call to amend the judiciary law, which was endorsed last June but which has failed, judges argue, to realise their demands for reform.
Constitutional amendments which the state intends to push through soon were also discussed during the assembly.
The assembly is to inform the prosecutor- general, Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud, of what they described as the rigged elections results in 201 branch electoral committees affiliated to the Bandar Damietta constituency. All the original minutes proving that rigging occurred will be sent to the prosecutor, the assembled judges agreed.
Judges who are proven guilty of taking part in any rigging will be stripped of their membership in the club.
"Let Marei know that Egypt's judges will not be silenced. Despite such revenge measures against us, judges are not going to back off from the oath they took to expose electoral fraud," said Judge Mahmoud El-Khodeiri, chairman of the Alexandria Judges Club, during the assembly.