Al-Ahram Weekly Online   1 - 7 October 2009
Issue No. 966
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

No halt to calls for reform

The sudden resignation of the deputy chief justice of the Court of Cassation, Mahmoud El-Khodeiri, surprised both judicial circles and the public. Mona El-Nahhas talks to El-Khodeiri about the reasons behind his decision

Your resignation has raised several question marks, especially since you had only nine months left before your retirement. Tell us why you decided to resign now?

First I'd like to stress that my decision to resign was not made overnight. I have been thinking about it for nearly two years. I first considered resigning after two leading reformist judges were referred to a judicial committee for questioning. Following the amendments introduced into the constitution excluding judges from the supervision of elections the idea again crossed my mind. What prevented me from making such a decision was the pressure of colleagues who argued my resignation would not be in the interests of the judiciary. This time I decided that I should not delay my resignation and I wrote my resignation letter without consulting anyone. As to the timing, I thought it appropriate to submit it two weeks before the new judicial year was due to start to allow the Court of Cassation's chief justice enough time to choose a replacement for me on the panel I have headed for nearly 20 years.

Why did you resign?

My resignation is a protest against the deterioration in the conditions faced by the Egyptian judiciary. Thousands of court rulings are not implemented. You cannot imagine how frustrated and humiliated judges feel when their rulings are simply ignored. It's a scandal. But that's not all. There is the question of executive interference in the judiciary. Ticklish cases, known as cases of public opinion, are repeatedly referred to particular judges to guarantee that rulings will be passed favourable to the executive.

If this is true, the blame lies with judges who act against their conscience.

With both. With the judge who did not resist temptations put in his way and with whoever tempted the judge either with financial gains or offers of promotion.

Some judges have voiced resentment with statements you made following your resignation. Some have even called for an investigation by the prosecutor- general, saying your statements were an insult to the judiciary.

I am ready for any investigation. I believe that we should face up to the facts rather than bury our heads in the sand. The judiciary in Egypt lacks independence. It's a fact which everyone knows quite well. It does not matter to me if some took my remarks personally. Even if there are thousands of judges who refuse temptations, it takes only one judge to accept to harm the image of the judiciary.

Do you think there will be more resignations?

I hope not. Any judge who takes such step will be from the independent group pressing for reform. My only desire is that my resignation will alert judges to the threats facing them and spur them to continue their struggle for greater independence.

When you submitted your resignation, did you expect it to cause the kind of stir it did?

I did not think of the effect it might have. I wanted only to draw attention to the appalling situation in which the judiciary has been placed. It never crossed my mind that my resignation would embarrass the regime. Yet instead of examining the reasons behind my resignation I have been attacked by some newspapers and accused of seeking notoriety. The best reply to such nonsense is to ignore it.

Some constitutional experts say you should have submitted your resignation to President Hosni Mubarak since you were appointed by a presidential decree. Technically my resignation should be presented to the minister of justice. I submitted it to the chief justice of the Court of Cassation, Adel Abdel-Hamid, and asked him to refer it to the Minister of Justice Mamdouh Marei. You know we are not on good terms. Abdel-Hamid attempted to convince me to withdraw my resignation but it was too late. I then heard that Marei was happy I had resigned.

How do you feel now?

I feel as if I have been carrying a heavy weight for years and now I have put it down. I have worked in the judiciary for 46 years. I became very tired and need to relax away from any career shackles.

What do you intend to do now?

I'll work as a lawyer. For the first time I'll be free to practise public work. I am a member of the committee against exporting natural gas to Israel and the committee to break the siege on Gaza. I am also a member of the Egyptian front for fair elections.

It has been rumoured that you intend to join the Muslim Brotherhood group and work as the group's lawyer. Is this true?

The Muslim Brotherhood is the only influential and organised opposition force in Egypt. I do not deny that I sympathise with them in the light of the detention campaign launched against the group's leading figures. But this does not mean that I am going to join the Muslim Brotherhood, or any other political group for that matter. I am not ready to give up my independence or be bound by ideological concepts. As to the issue of defending members of the group, if I felt that any of them had lost their rights I would definitely take his side. It would be my duty as a lawyer.

Since Mamdouh Marei became minister of justice in 2006, tensions between the ministry and judges -- even pro-government judges -- have been escalating. Why is this?

When Marei was appointed justice minister he immediately began to try and silence judges who had exposed electoral fraud. He tried to prevent judges' clubs from calling for reform. And he did so by tipping the balance in favour of the ministry, even over judges taking the side of the government.

How far were his efforts successful?

He managed to exclude reformist judges from the boards of judges' clubs. But he cannot undermine demands for reform. They come from a majority of judges, especially the younger generation, who is totally determined to continue the march towards reform.

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