Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1149, 23 - 29 May 2013
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1149, 23 - 29 May 2013

Ahram Weekly

Out of the shadows

The Judges Club draws international attention to its disputes with the Muslim Brotherhood, reports Reem Leila

Al-Ahram Weekly

Preserving the Independence of the Egyptian Judiciary, a one day conference held on 20 May, was organised by the judges in cooperation with the International Association of Judges (IAJ). It addressed the gamut of issues involved in Egypt’s ongoing judicial crisis, including the regime’s violations of the judicial system. The conference was attended by IAJ President Gerhard Reissner alongside many heads of courts, judges clubs, lawyers and legal experts.

“Independence is an essential requirement for judicial function in order to guarantee human rights and freedom,” Reissner told the conference.

Egypt’s judges are currently mired in deadlock over a controversial draft Judiciary Law which seeks to reduce the retirement age of judges from 70 to 60. Islamist supporters of the law in the Shura Council claim the change is needed to tackle corruption in the judiciary. It would affect an estimated 3,000 judges, the majority in senior positions, including the Supreme Constitutional Court.

Allies of President Mohamed Morsi allege that Mubarak appointed judges remain loyal to their former masters and are working to undermine the transition to democracy and the Islamists’ hold on power. Walid Al-Sharabi, spokesman of the pro-Morsi Judges for Egypt group, on Monday called on the Shura Council to expedite the approval of the draft of the Judiciary Law.

“People have been demanding more opportunities for younger judges since the beginning of the 25 January Revolution. We want to purge the judicial system,” said Al-Sharabi.

Many other judges resent what they see as Morsi’s interference in judicial affairs and attempts to compromise their independence. 

“Soon there will be parliamentary elections. To be properly supervised the poll will require the participation of all Egypt’s judges. If you decide to pension off a quarter of judges before the elections are held it will open the doors to the possibility of serious vote rigging,” says Mohamed Abdel-Hadi, deputy head of the Judges Club Information and Media Committee. Islamists, he adds, want to replace senior judges with their political sympathisers.  The draft law, he complains, rather than being compiled by legal experts, has “been prepared by a bunch of people who do not understand anything about the law or Egypt’s judicial system”.

In a statement released on Sunday members of the Judges for Egypt campaign denounced any resort to international bodies to solve a local issue. According to campaign coordinator Hassan Al-Kabbani “Reissner might have been misled by [Judges Club head] Ahmed Al-Zend who is affiliated to the former regime”.

“Those who call for resort to foreign bodies should be held responsible for their deeds,” the statement read.

“Egypt’s judges only resort to God and the people,” retorted Al-Zend. He added that the judges would stand firm against the growing influence of the Muslim Brotherhood. “We offered our own draft amendments to the judicial authority bill. Amendments presented to the Shura Council by the Muslim Brotherhood cannot be considered.”

“The conference wasn’t about involving international organisations in domestic affairs,” says Abdel-Hadi, responding to those judges who opposed it being convened. “It was about exchanging ideas and learning from the experience of countries that have a long history of respecting the separation of powers.”

Former deputy head of the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) Tahani Al-Gibali argues that the draft law is a clear attempt by the Muslim Brotherhood to exert control of the judiciary by appointing Islamists to senior posts. “The current regime sees the judiciary as an obstacle to Islamist plans to dominate the state,” she says. Morsi’s earlier decision — since abandoned — to reconvene the People’s Assembly after it was dissolved by judicial ruling, provides ample evidence of the way the president and his supporters are willing to trample roughshod overdue legal process.

“If the Muslim Brotherhood manages to pass the current draft it will be a massacre of Egypt’s judges,” warns Al-Gibali.

Constitutional expert Shawki Al-Sayed agrees. “The Shura Council’s decision to even consider the draft exacerbates the distrust that has developed between the judicial authority on one hand, and the legislative authority and the presidency on the other. Judges will continue to fight any attempts to interfere with their independence. If the presidency does not solve this crisis nobody knows what could happen next.”




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