Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1310, (1 - 7 September 2016)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1310, (1 - 7 September 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Island woes

The government’s appeal against the Administrative Court ruling overturning the maritime border agreement with Saudi Arabia is delayed following the recusal of the court panel, Mona El-Nahhas reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

On Saturday the Higher Administrative Court approved a recusal request made by lawyer Mohamed Adel of the court panel reviewing the governments appeal against June’s first-degree Administrative Court ruling annulling the Egyptian-Saudi maritime borders demarcation agreement. Signed in early April, the controversial agreement transferred the two strategic Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia.

In its reasons for this week’s ruling the court said the panel lacked the neutrality necessary to ensure a fair hearing of the appeal. The panel’s impartiality, it added, was compromised given the relationship between some of its members and one of the litigants.

In his recusal request, Adel had cited possible interference of the executive authority in the work of the court panel. Earlier statements by Magdi Al-Agati, minister for parliamentary affairs, expressing the hope a final ruling would be passed within a week were viewed by the claimants as tantamount to the executive issuing instructions to the court panel. The hastiness in setting a date for hearing the government’s appeal was also cited as reasons for filing the recusal request.

In the reasons for its ruling the Higher Administrative Court said no justification had been offered for the hastiness in scheduling the appeal. It noted that documents relating to the case had not been handed to the judges reviewing the recusal request and claimants’ allegations that one of the members of the appeal panel had been delegated to work for the Foreign Ministry had not been answered.

Hamed Al-Gamal, a former chief justice of the State Council, says recusal requests are rarely accepted and courts generally view them as a tactic to prolong litigation. In this case, however, acceptance of the recusal indicated that substantive concerns over the integrity and impartiality of the panel had been identified.

The maritime border demarcation agreement’s opponents said Saturday’s ruling underlined the independence of the judiciary and its rejection of pressure exerted by the executive authority.

But what happens next? According to Khaled Ali, a former presidential candidate and one of the anti-agreement claimants, “the chief justice of the State Council will now assign another court panel to review the government’s appeal”.

“The new panel will either accept to hear the appeal, in which case legal proceedings will open, or reject it and support the original Administrative Court ruling.”

This week’s recusal, says Ali, aborted government plans to secure a decision either annulling the June court ruling or halting its implementation. “Such a ruling,” he adds, “would have allowed the government to refer the agreement to parliament for endorsement.”

“Now the government’s appeal is awaiting a new court panel and the Administrative Court ruling still applies meaning parliament cannot discuss the border agreement.”

This week also saw the issuing of court orders for the release of lawyer Malek Adli and journalist Amr Badr. The two men were detained in May on charges related to their opposition to the Egyptian-Saudi agreement.

On Saturday a criminal court quashed an appeal by the general prosecution against a 25 August ruling releasing Adli.

Adli, who was arrested on 6 May on suspicion of spreading false news about the sovereignty of the two islands, inciting protests and attempting to topple the regime, had been held in solitary confinement. Similar accusations were leveled against Badr whose arrest during a sit-in at the Press Syndicate on 1 May stirred a crisis between journalists and the Interior Ministry and led to the trial of the Press Syndicate Chairman Yehia Qallash on charges of sheltering Badr.

After four months behind bars Badr was released on bail on Sunday. Twenty-two protestors against the border demarcation deal remain behind bars.

Ali says that legal challenges against the border agreement are on the right track.

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