Monday,23 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1248, (28 May - 3 June 2015)
Monday,23 July, 2018
Issue 1248, (28 May - 3 June 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Judge for yourself

The appointment of a new justice minister has received mixed reactions from the judiciary and the public, reports Reem Leila

Ahmed Al-Zend
Ahmed Al-Zend
Al-Ahram Weekly

The chairman of the Cairo Judges Club, Ahmed Al-Zend, was sworn in as the new justice minister on 20 May, succeeding Mahfouz Saber, who resigned on 11 May. Saber gave up his post after the public reacted with outrage to a comment he made during a live TV interview that sons of garbage collectors should not be hired as judges.

Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb lashed out at Saber’s remark. “I cannot talk to people and convince them that I am in their service when one of my ministers is talking in such a discriminatory manner,” Mehleb said. A few days after Mehleb accepted Saber’s resignation, Al-Zend took the vacant ministerial seat, but that too led to a barrage of criticism, particularly on social media websites.

It was Al-Zend who said last year, in a phone interview with the private Al-Faraeen TV satellite channel, that “judges are masters on this land and everybody else is a slave.”

Al-Zend previously prepared a draft law permitting sons of judges to be appointed judges even if they do not have all the required qualifications. “Appointing sons of judges as judges is the only gift which could be presented to judges who have spent more than 30 years serving the country honourably,” said Al-Zend, who has also described their appointment as a “holy march.”

Al-Zend was a strong supporter of the 30 June Revolution that toppled Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, and a strong opponent of the Muslim Brotherhood during their one year in power.

Hassan Nafaa, a professor of political science at Cairo University, pointed out that Al-Zend, who was the head of the Cairo Judges Club during the last years of the Hosni Mubarak presidency, was instructed to quell the judges’ Independence Current Movement. The group lobbied for the independence of the judiciary from the executive authority. Al-Zend chaired the Cairo Judges Club for two terms starting in 2009.

“Many are shocked by Al-Zend’s appointment as the new justice minister. His selection was totally unexpected. I consider his appointment a big violation of the principles of the 25 January Revolution,” said Nafaa, referring to the 2011 nationwide revolt that ousted Mubarak.

“He belongs to the Mubarak regime. Al-Zend’s appointment is a strong and direct message to the opposition,” Nafaa added.

Judge Khaled Nassar, a member of the Independence Current Movement, describes the appointment of Al-Zend as a retreat in the struggle for justice. “We are back in the dark ages of the judiciary system. Judges can now forget everything about reforming the judiciary system,” Nassar said.

Al-Zend will work on approving the draft law regarding the appointment of sons of judges that was earlier rejected. “The original draft is against the law and the constitution. Its articles are based on discriminatory concepts,” said Nassar. He added, “I know many judges are against his appointment.”

Opposition movements, including Kefaya and 6 April, have condemned Al-Zend’s appointment. Kefaya issued a statement in which it expressed its concerns, especially since Al-Zend is accused in a corruption case. According to the statement, the movement filed a lawsuit against the minister for selling land belonging to the Port Said branch of the Judges Club to one of his relatives.

“The land belongs to the Port Said Judges Club. It does not belong to him personally. How can he sell something he does not own? This is corruption,” the statement said. “We demand judicial immunity be lifted so that he can stand trial.”

On its Facebook page, 6 April also criticised Al-Zend’s appointment. It said the criteria by which Al-Zend was chosen are unknown and that the appointment comes amid corruption accusations against him. It said that because there was heated debate in the judicial community regarding his appointment, it might affect his performance as head of the judiciary system.

Despite the disagreements, however, many believe that Al-Zend was the best choice. “He is the right man for the right job at the right time,” said Judge Mohamed Abdel-Mowla.

Abdel-Mowla said it was normal to disagree on the appointment. “No person can win the approval of all the people. Al-Zend has his weaknesses and strengths.”

Al-Zend, who was a vociferous opponent of the Muslim Brotherhood during their one year in power, announced in 2012 that judges would not supervise the referendum on the constitution that was being drawn up by the Brotherhood-dominated parliament.

In 2013, Al-Zend, who was then head of the Judges Club, opposed, along with other judges, the proposed changes made by Islamist parties to the judiciary. The amendments, which were not passed, aimed at reducing the retirement age of judges from 70 to 60. If the amendments had passed, almost 25 per cent of Egypt’s 13,000 judges would have been forced to retire.

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