Judgements being made
The appointment of a reformist as the new justice minister had judges talking, reports Mona El-Nahhas
In what was viewed as an about-face, Ahmed El-Zend, chairman of Egypt's Judges Club, said on Saturday that he welcomed the appointment of Ahmed Mekki, former deputy chief justice of the Cassation Court, as the new justice minister. El-Zend's welcome was a U-turn from a day earlier. El-Zend was said to have accepted the appointment after the chairman of the Supreme Judiciary Council (SJC) Momtaz Metwalli had welcomed Mekki's choice, stressing that judges have nothing to do with the appointment of ministers. Following in El-Zend's footsteps, the chairmen of five branch judges clubs who stood firmly against Mekki's appointment, alleging that the new minister belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood, announced on Saturday their approval of his appointment.
On 3 August, one day after the new cabinet took the oath, Egypt's Judges Club declared its "strong disapproval" of Mekki as the choice. During the annual Iftar banquet at the club -- Mekki was not invited -- the call for holding an emergency general assembly in response to Mekki's appointment was suggested as one option.
When Mekki's name was first proposed as a candidate for the ministerial seat, the club's council members vowed to oppose his appointment. The current administration of the Judges Club, known for its support of the former regime of Hosni Mubarak and for its hostility towards reformist judges, insisted that the then justice minister Adel Abdel-Hamid should remain in his post in the new government. "If the justice minister is changed, judges will have another say," El-Zend said during an Iftar banquet held at Alexandria Judges Club on 27 July, three days after Prime Minister Hisham Qandil was tasked with forming a new cabinet. "If you are after stability, judge Abdel-Hamid should maintain his ministerial seat," El-Zend said, apparently addressing President Mohamed Mursi.
El-Zend's statements were strongly opposed by a majority of judges, topped by the reformist group to which judge Mekki belongs. "El-Zend's statements are nonsense. Egypt's honourable judges do not trust El-Zend and do not accept his statements," Zakaria Abdel-Aziz, former chairman of Egypt's Judges Club, said, insisting that El-Zend should be dismissed from his post and from the judiciary as well.
Hisham Geneina, a chairman of the Cairo Appeals Court, stressed that Mekki's choice was met with applause by a large majority of judges. Geneina, who himself was a nominee for the ministerial post, said Mekki with his "honourable history and reformist views" will work hard for an independent judiciary. Geneina criticised the stance first adopted by the Judges Club. "I am really saddened by the statements given by the club's administration which tarnish the image of judges in the eyes of the public," Geneina said.
Commenting on judges who opposed his appointment, Mekki said they should not interfere in political affairs, noting that courtrooms are not "fields for political clashes". In the same connection, Mekki pledged to put an end to all attempts to interfere in the work of the judiciary.
Mekki denied any feud between him and El-Zend or any other judge, stressing that he will act as a minister for all judges. Mekki called upon El-Zend to "turn a new leaf and to start a new page, with judges acting as a unified force for the fulfilment of justice."
Replying to reports about his belonging to the Brotherhood, Mekki was quoted as saying that he never joined the group or worked with them. "I am an independent judge. My stands are clear and are known to all," Mekki told a local daily on Saturday.
Battling for years to allow the judiciary to be independent of the executive authority, Mekki said that issuing the new judiciary law will top his priorities after the election of a new parliament. Last year, Mekki was assigned by former SJC Chairman Hossam El-Gheriani to head a judicial committee responsible for amending the current judiciary law. Drafting the amendments, Mekki referred them to the legislative authority for endorsement. However, that step was postponed by the dissolution of parliament in June. The new amendments are said to hand all authority which the justice minister had over judges to the SJC. Questioning judges or appointing first-degree court heads, to cite a few examples, will no longer be in the hands of the justice minister.
"We hope that judge Mekki will work hard to lend the judiciary the kind of independence he had been calling for," said Mahmoud El-Sherif, the official spokesman of the Judges Club. El-Sherif said that as of now the club will press for an independent judiciary.
Replying to El-Sherif, Geneina said: "They are the last ones to talk about an independent judiciary. All they are doing now is stirring up trouble among judges and tearing their unity apart."