Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1143, 11 - 17 April 2013
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1143, 11 - 17 April 2013

Ahram Weekly

‘Still optimistic’

Amir Ramzi, chief justice of Cairo Criminal Court and a Copt, accuses the Muslim Brotherhood of politicising the judiciary. Ramzi speaks with Michael Adel

Al-Ahram Weekly

What is your view of Egypt today?

Beginning with Mubarak’s bad regime, we have undergone a transition to what is if anything an even worse regime.

What we are seeing are the convulsions of an ailing body still infected with administrative and financial corruption. From president [Gamal] Abdel-Nasser and until today power has remained in the hands of the ruler and not the people being governed. As a result Egypt is ruled according to the perspective of one person, not by institutions that meet the needs of Egyptians.


Why did the Islamists rise to power post-Mubarak?

The National Democratic Party dominated the upper tiers of political life. When it collapsed a subterranean tier — the Islamist current — bubbled to the surface to replace the National Democratic Party lock, stock and barrel.

The opposition under Mubarak had only ever been window dressing. Mubarak steered the ship by himself. Egypt became a one-man-show. When the regime fell the Armed Forces failed to oversee the transitional phase and in fact escalated clashes with the people. The rise of the Islamist current was expected but the legitimacy of the Muslim Brotherhood has quickly eroded. Its rule will be followed by the rise of liberal and civil currents.


But there are demands for the army to topple Morsi’s regime?

There is a significant difference between the army taking over and military rule. Our only hope is for the army to protect Egyptians against tyranny. We want their help not to bring them back to power but because we are facing a war of attrition and it will take the army to intervene to end the war. Egypt is rising up to assume its place on the world stage; it is a period of transformation and we face difficult times in which there will be violent clashes and more. I believe the Armed Forces’ management of the transitional phase, despite all its faults, was better than MB rule. And I think the Armed Forces will have learned from their past mistakes.


So you want to overthrow the regime?

We want early presidential elections. If Morsi wants to nominate himself again then he should. Then he’ll discover how much support he has lost. The religious current will lose the election battle. How Egyptians vote will come as a complete shock to it.


Who rules Egypt?

No one is ruling Egypt, not even the Guidance Bureau. The MB never has, and never will, rule Egypt because they don’t know how. We admit they were an influential power and the bogeyman during Mubarak’s regime. But I tell you for sure, the US is currently directing Egypt from behind the scene; it is the finger meddling in Egypt. And as Morsi vowed, he must cut off these fingers if he can.


Do you fear the MB?

I do not fear them on a personal level but had hoped the MB would play a more positive social role in transforming Egypt. I am not alone in fearing what the MB’s impact on Egypt will be. I worry about religious currents assuming power, be they Muslim or Christian.


What do you think of the court decision to annul the dismissal of Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud as prosecutor general?

I was pleased but implementing it is difficult because the regime does not respect the judiciary. Remember what happened outside the Constitutional Court when Hazemoun [Salafist Hazem Abu Ismail’s supporters] protested there and forced the court to suspend its sittings. The presidency has interfered in court decisions; the president had no right to issue a constitutional declaration.


But the president has declared several times he respects the courts?

Where is this respect?


Was annulling Abdel-Meguid’s dismissal a shock for the regime?

It is a landmark ruling. Although I have reservations about Abdel-Meguid, the way he was removed from office undermines all judges. We must not forget what the regime did to judge Tahani Al-Gibali. She was a thorn in their side so they stayed up all night to remove her.


What political divisions exist inside the Judges Club?

There are no political affiliations inside the club. In the past we never talked to the media but then we recognised our responsibility as Egyptian citizens and out of concern for our profession. Naturally, we are influenced by society.


But a judge should not be politicised?

The minister of justice’s decisions and methods are pure Brotherhood. He is politicised, as is the prosecutor-general, and a number of judges are clearly influenced by the incumbent regime.


Can a person change once they reach power and revise their principles?

That is what happened to the minister of justice. He wants to keep his position. His main aim is to please the group in Muqattam [the MB leadership headquarters].


So why are you talking politics?

A judge is part of society. I am willing to resign from the judiciary but I am not willing to be stripped of my identity, or my sense of identity, as an Egyptian. How can I remain silent in the face of corruption and injustice? Some judges are courting the MB in the hope of senior posts, but it is very risky to politicise your work as a judge. I accuse the prosecutor-general of being extremely politicised.


As someone close to Pope Tawadros II, what is your opinion of his performance since the departure of Pope Shenouda?

The pope has chosen the right path. I admire the fact that he is not overawed by the position, especially given he succeeded Pope Shenouda.


Pope Tawadros takes a great interest in the personal status of Copts. You attended the Personal Status Conference at Wadi Al-Natroun Monastery and asked for flexibility in interpreting the verse: “No divorce except in the case of adultery”.

I asked the pope to interpret the meaning of bonding and dissolution in Christianity that allows the pope and Holy Synod to be flexible in interpreting the verse that states divorce is not allowed except in the case of adultery, so it is not interpreted literally.


The verse is clear and straightforward.

But there are other verses allowing him to exercise his own discretion and adopt greater leniency.


What were the recommendations at the conference?

Restructuring the Seminary Council; new criteria for issuing permits for second marriages; an institutional process for personal status issues and not just relying on one person to judge and decide. I suggested a seven-person committee including clergy, legal experts and psychiatrists. There were recommendations to open seminaries in various governorates. I believe the Holy Synod will approve the recommendations.


Will divorce become easier for Copts?

Divorce is never easy but there will be more flexibility and ease in acquiring a permit for a second marriage. And a permit for a second marriage is a recognition of divorce.


Some Copts criticise the way the Church deals with national issues and political crises.

When Pope Shenouda led the Church there was real intervention in politics. President Mubarak addressed Copts through the pope, in a sense reducing Copts to the person of the pope. Pope Shenouda played a political role while Pope Tawadros has removed himself from politics and does not want to repeat the earlier scenario.


But I see Pope Tawadros as a revolutionary.

He is a revolutionary, but someone who defends what is right does not necessarily have to become a politician. Pope Tawadros fought for what is right, while Pope Shenouda was forced because Mubarak wanted that.


It is said that some bishops inside the Cathedral are close to the MB and the latter has appointed its Coptic confidantes to senior positions. What is your response to these accusations?

They are true; there is no denying it. It is shameful that we have stooped so low, and I urge the pope to deal with this issue firmly. I am certain he would never allow Christian clergy to participate in politics, either directly or indirectly, especially since during the last days of Pope Shenouda two people — I’m sorry, I cannot mention their names — peddled their influence as confidantes of the pope with the Armed Forces.


Your grandfather, the chairman of the Lawyers Syndicate in Minya, participated in the 1919 Revolution. What differences do you see between the revolutions in 1919 and 2011?

Both revolutions were against injustice. The first was against British colonialism and the second against tyranny and dictatorship. The January Revolution was not manufactured in the US or any other country, it was Egyptian. Unfortunately the MB hijacked it, with the help of the US.


But today a significant number of people feel nostalgia for the days of Mubarak...

It is true, we cannot deny this. Yet under Mubarak a significant number of people felt nostalgia for the days of the monarchy. We always want to return to the good old days. Recently I was listening to a song by Abdel-Halim Hafez from the 1950s and was taken aback when he sang “Our revolution is for bread, freedom and social justice”. We have yet to achieve these goals.


You have accused Safwat Hegazi of fomenting sectarian strife. Why?

Hegazi and Assem Abdel-Meguid want strife. I personally witnessed false accusations against Church leaders, and they want to transform the political clash into a religious one. Hegazi accused the Church of steering Copts as it pleases, although he himself does that by steering people and fanaticism. They want to drag Copts into the political crisis to dupe the ignorant and the fanatical but they will never succeed. Egyptians will not allow it. Their attempts will fail and are too obvious.


Do Christian females worry about conversion to Islam?

Freedom of belief and religious conversions are not a problem. The constitution states as much, but where is the constitution? A person can freely choose their faith. We are not worried about that. I do not object to converting to Christianity or Islam, but only that it should be done when the person is mature and not a minor.


How far along is the unified law on houses of worship?

It is ink on paper. It was proposed earlier and I did not believe Pope Shenouda when he laughed and said: “This draft will never pass because they don’t want to pass it. They want to control the construction of churches.”


Morsi claims fingers are meddling in Egypt. Whose fingers?

Mubarak planted the seeds of conspiracy and most Egyptians believed it. Morsi talks along the same lines. Egyptians, however, have changed, and Morsi must now reveal whose these fingers are that he endlessly refers to in his speeches. He is clearly trying to implicate the UAE, the EU parliament and opposition leaders in Egypt. This is a sign of his weakness. No one in Egypt believes him. He uses language we have never heard from a head of state, adopting the vocabulary of the alleyway in his domestic and international addresses.


Are you optimistic?

Very optimistic. Egypt is passing through a period of malaise but the country will recover. When Egyptians are hungry they will transform themselves into volcanoes that will smother the MB and its regime. The MB cannot remain in power. It will soon be deposed.



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