Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1125, 6 - 12 December 2012
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1125, 6 - 12 December 2012

Ahram Weekly

Who’s targeting whom?

Following the siege of the Supreme Constitutional Court by Islamist protesters, the court’s judges have suspended their work, writes Mona El-Nahhas

Al-Ahram Weekly

For the first time in its history, the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) decided on Sunday to suspend its work for an indefinite period. The decision was made after SCC judges were surprised on Sunday morning to find hundreds of Islamist protesters blockading the court building.
The court said in a statement issued soon afterwards that “it would not convene until its judges could operate without any psychological and material pressure.” The SCC described Sunday as “the judiciary’s blackest day on record”, the institution’s judges saying in a statement that they were left “with no choice but to announce to the people of Egypt that they cannot carry out their sacred mission in such a tense atmosphere.”
The judges said that they had not been allowed entry to the court building, as protesters were blocking all the entrances and climbing over external fences. Fearing for their safety, the SCC judges turned back, with deputy chief justice of the SCC judge Tahani Al-Gebali accusing the Interior Ministry of failing to protect the judges.
Interior Minister Ahmed Gamaleddin stressed in press statements that the court’s entrances and exits were secure, adding that the protests had been peaceful. “I told the SCC chairman that the Interior Ministry was ready to transport judges in armoured trucks if necessary, but he told me the decision by the court had been made for psychological rather than security reasons,” Gamaleddin said.
The statements failed to calm the anger felt by the judges, activists and politicians, who viewed what had happened as “the end of the rule of law and the beginning of the rule of chaos” in Egypt.
“This is the worst period in Egypt’s history,” said judge Abdel-Azim Al-Ashri, a member of the board of the Judges Club, who criticised the silence of the state at the intimidation of the judges.
The Judges Club has announced its support for the stance of the SCC judges.
“President Mohamed Morsi must take responsibility for terrorising the judiciary,” opposition writer Abdel-Halim Kandil said on his twitter account. A number of human rights organisations also condemned what they called an “unprecedented incident in the history of Egypt’s judiciary”.
The Arab Centre for the Independence of the Judiciary described what had happened as “an organised act of terrorism in which certain institutions have clearly taken part.” The Arab Centre for Human Rights Activists said that the president was accountable for the siege of the SCC.
However, the Arab Network for Human Rights Information said the two sides should both be made responsible for what had happened. The judges had become involved in politics, it said, and the president had undermined the judiciary to maintain his authority.
The leaders of Islamist forces denied giving instructions to their supporters to lay siege to the SCC, stressing that the protests in front of the Court had been staged spontaneously.  
The SCC was scheduled to hear two lawsuits on Sunday, one contesting the constitutionality of the law governing elections to the Shura Council and the other challenging the legality of the formation of the constituent assembly that on 29 November finished drafting the country’s new constitution.
According to the Islamist protesters, the SCC should have dropped these two suits the moment Morsi issued his constitutional declaration on 22 November, which in its fifth article prevents both the Shura Council and the assembly from being dissolved by court order.
Morsi’s supporters viewed the SCC’s insistence on hearing the cases despite the declaration as being a clear challenge to the president, hence the move to lay siege to the SCC to put pressure on the court to quash the two lawsuits.
The call to lay siege to the SCC was voiced by Islamist preacher Safwat Hegazi on Saturday, when Islamist forces were staging a one-million-man march in Nahda Square in Giza.
Responding to Hegazi’s call, a few hundred protesters headed on Saturday night towards the SCC headquarters in Maadi. Setting up their tents in front of the SCC building, the protesters passed the night there.
In the early hours of Sunday morning, delegates representing Islamist forces came and joined the protests, while chanting anti-SCC slogans via loudspeakers and calling for the dissolution of the SCC and the questioning of its judges.
“You SCC judges, the end is coming soon,” and “the people want to dissolve the SCC” were among the chants.
According to the protesters, the SCC has been passing politicised rulings targeting the political Islam trend.
While a large number of Islamists regard the SCC as part and parcel of the former regime to which its judges pledged allegiance, the SCC accuses the Islamist trend of launching a smear campaign against the court with the aim of tarnishing its image.
“Such a campaign started in the wake of a ruling that the SCC passed last June ordering the dissolution of the Islamist-dominated People’s Assembly,” judge Maher Sami, deputy chief justice of the SCC, told reporters last week.
Legal experts view the new draft constitution as further marginalising the role of the SCC. In Article 176, the constitution decreases the number of SCC judges from 19 to 11.
Judge Al-Gebali, widely viewed as a remnant of the former Mubarak regime, tops the SCC judges and will be excluded if the new constitution is endorsed. Other excluded judges will return to the posts they occupied before they joined the SCC.
Article 177 of the draft constitution makes the SCC’s control over legislation regulating parliamentary, presidential and municipal polls prior to the application of the laws.
According to the article, the president of the republic or the parliament should present such laws to the SCC before their passage, in order to be sure that they conform with the constitution. The SCC would then issue its decision within 45 days.
Judge Maher Al-Beheiri, chief justice of the SCC, had previously said that the SCC was not against prior control of legislation, but that it wanted its opinion regarding the constitutionality of any such laws to be binding.
Professor of constitutional law Merghani Khairi was not in favour of prior control, saying it would be hard to judge legislation in advance as faults in the law often only show up after its application.
“This article will turn the role the SCC plays in controlling the laws into a rather superficial one,” Khairi said.

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