Sunday,19 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1149, 23 - 29 May 2013
Sunday,19 August, 2018
Issue 1149, 23 - 29 May 2013

Ahram Weekly

Conference calls

The Muslim Brotherhood appears determined to force a showdown with judges, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

Al-Ahram Weekly

The Shura Council is scheduled to discuss amendments to the 1972 law regulating the judiciary on Saturday. The controversial changes proposed by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, the Wasat Party, and Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya’s Reconstruction and Development Party include moves to reduce the retirement age for judges from 70 to 60. If applied, it will end the careers of more than 3,000 judges.

The Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) and the Independent Judges’ Club responded to the Shura Council’s announcement that it will discuss the proposed amendments by announcing their own boycott of the so-called Justice Conference that Islamist President Mohamed Morsi and SJC Chairman Mohamed Metwalli agreed to convene just two weeks ago.

According to Metwalli, “the objective of the conference was to open a window for judges and the Shura Council to reach a consensus on proposed amendments to the judicial authority law,” says Metwalli. “Now the Shura Council has made it clear it will press ahead and discuss the law without consulting judges the conference is redundant.”

Ahmed Fahmi, FJP chairman of the Shura Council, insists “the amendments proposed by Islamist MPs will be discussed in principle and if approved will be referred back to the Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee for discussion article by article,” though he stressed “the amendments cannot be discussed without first seeking the opinion of the representatives of the judicial authorities.”

Chairman of the Judges Club Ahmed Al-Zend said on Monday that “judges have lost all faith in the Shura Council and Mohamed Morsi”, pointing out that “even if the council seeks the opinion of the judiciary, the fact remains it will not be obliged to adopt this opinion.”

The Judges Club, in collaboration with the International Association of Judges (IAJ), held a one-day conference on Monday highlighting threats to judicial independence. The conference, which was attended by IAJ Chairman Gerhard Reissner, was denounced by Essam Al-Erian, the FJP’s Shura Council spokesman, as an attempt “to seek the intervention of foreign forces in domestic affairs”.

Al-Zend submitted a memo to Reissner detailing violations “against the independence of the judicial authorities in Egypt committed by the Morsi regime”. They included “the Muslim Brotherhood organised siege of the headquarters of the Supreme Constitutional Court [SCC]; the illegal appointment of a prosecutor-general and tailoring a constitution to serve the interests of Islamists by providing the Shura Council with legislative powers”.

Al-Zend said he had invited FJP Chairman Saad Al-Katatni and Nour Party head Younis Makhyoun to the conference so that they could present their position over the ongoing crisis with judges but both men refrained from doing so.

“The Judges Club,” argues Al-Zend, “has done everything in its power in an attempt to reach agreement with the Shura Council on amendments to the judicial authority law but what the Shura Council has decided is to discuss something completely different.”

“The amendments submitted to the Shura Council cannot be described as legislative. They appear to have been drafted by people who do not live in Egypt and are unaware of its conditions. How do they think they can get rid of 3,500 judges at a time when judicial procedures are slower than ever and in many instances a single judge must deliberate more than 500 lawsuits a day.”

Al-Zend defended the conference from Muslim Brotherhood attacks: “Egypt’s judges do not seek the intervention of foreigners but they will do everything possible and impossible to safeguard the independence of judges in Egypt.”

Lawyers Syndicate Chairman Sameh Ashour responded to the Brotherhood’s attacks on the conference by reminding “the Muslim Brotherhood that its officials had sought the support of America’s former state secretary Hillary Clinton to push the military into ceding power.”

Alexandria Judges Club Chair Fathi Abu Ayna warned that “if passed the legislative amendments of the judicial authority law will be constitutionally contested”.

“I guarantee,” he said, “that judges will refrain from implementing the Shura Council’s amendments and show the amendments themselves to be unconstitutional”.

FJP MPs refused to back down. “We have the right to propose amendments without giving much heed to objections from the judiciary,” says Taher Abdel-Mohsen, deputy chairman of the Shura Council’s Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee.

Abdel-Mohsen plans to chair hearing session today, Thursday, that aims to “expose corruption inside the judicial authority” and at which “top graduates from several faculties of law will expose how senior judges helped their sons inherit their positions even though they lacked the requisite qualifications”.

Secular MPs — including independents and deputies of liberal political parties — have argued ahead of Saturday’s session that the Shura Council is not constitutionally authorised to discuss amendments to the judicial authority law.

“The judicial authority law must be discussed by both the Shura Council and the yet to be elected House of Representatives,” says Mohamed Mohieddin, a member of the liberal Ghad Al-Thawra Party. “In the absence of the House, and given that Shura MPs are not entitled to propose bills, any changes to the judicial authority law will be overturned constitutionally.”

The Nour Party — the second largest political force in the Shura Council — opposes the amendments.

“These changes serve only to complicate Egypt’s political crisis,” Nour MP Salah Abdel-Maaboud told journalists. “They also ignore Article 169 of the constitution which obliges parliament to seek the opinion of the  judicial authorities ahead of amending laws regulating their performance.”

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