During a meeting Tuesday afternoon, the Cairo Judges Club renewed its refusal to supervise next Saturday’s referendum on the constitution. “More than 90 per cent of judges clubs all over Egypt will refrain from the supervision process,” club chairman Ahmed Al-Zend said while addressing the club.
“Judges have always been at the forefront whenever we are called to perform any patriotic mission, however, this time it’s different. Most judges are refraining from monitoring the referendum because they have sensed severe violation of their authority as well as their independence,” said Al-Zend. He said none of the boycotting judges was biased towards any of the conflicting parties, referring to supporters of President Mohamed Morsi and those who are against him with regard to the draft constitution. “Some judges in other Arab countries as well as some European countries have expressed their support of our stance. I have the documents which prove what I am saying.”
Al-Zend’s statements came just 24 hours after 22 judges clubs announced on Monday that they would boycott the supervision of the referendum. Judges clubs in Alexandria, Tanta, Assiut, Qena, Qalioubiya and Kafr Al-Sheikh, Aswan, Fayoum and Mansoura were among those which said they would refrain.
The Beni Sweif Judges Club declared that 50 per cent of its judges were willing to monitor the referendum. Eighty-eight per cent in Damietta refused the supervision process, while 90 per cent in Menoufiya agreed on the boycott. The remaining 10 per cent will participate in monitoring the plebiscite.
Unlike the stance adopted by the majority of judges clubs, the State Council Judges (administrative judiciary), the Independent Judiciary Movement (IJM) and the State Litigation Authority revised their previous stand and announced their readiness to supervise the referendum. The approval by the State Council Judges was, however, conditional.
“Among the conditions set by judges was ending the blockade imposed around the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC),” Hamdi Yassin, head of the State Council Judges, told a press conference on Monday. The SCC had indefinitely suspended its work after Morsi’s Islamist supporters raided the premises and staged a sit-in in front of the court. The siege began on 2 December when the SCC was scheduled to rule into the case that could have potentially dissolved the Constituent Assembly which drew up the constitution, and the Shura Council or Upper House of parliament.
Other conditions put forward by Yassin include securing the Supreme Electoral Committee which will supervise the referendum process. Also voters, polling stations and judges must be protected during the polling process. “Campaigning for or against the draft constitution must be prohibited outside all polling stations,” said Yassin.
We also demand that all State Council judges are to exercise their role in complete safety while performing their mission,” Yassin said. “Judges should also be permitted to withdraw from the polling stations if anybody impedes their independence or harms their dignity.”
Yassin said the council decided to support the public’s right to go and vote, “so we took the decision to supervise the referendum. In this way, voters would feel secure and be assured that their votes are protected.”
The change in the judges’ stance came after nearly all judicial bodies announced late last week their refusal to take part in the referendum, to protest against the constitutional declaration issued by President Morsi on 22 November. According to the declaration, Morsi shielded his decisions from judicial review and immunised the Constituent Assembly as well as the Shura Council from being dismantled. The decree was considered by most judges a major threat to the independence and authority of the judiciary system.
However, at the beginning of this week and in a move viewed by many as flattering the judiciary, Morsi issued another declaration which annulled the previous controversial edict. News of the new declaration was announced following a meeting Morsi held with a number of opposition forces in an attempt to reach a consensus over the current crisis. The president also announced that the referendum will take place as planned on 15 December. Accordingly, several judicial entities withdrew their decision to boycott.
Judge Zaghloul Al-Balshi, secretary-general of the Supreme Electoral Commission who announced last week his withdrawal from the SEC in protest against last week’s bloody events in front of Al-Ittihadiya presidential palace, changed heart on Monday. Al-Balshi called upon the people to go to the ballot box and vote either for or against the constitution, noting that all constitutions all over the world have faults. Talking to the media, Al-Balshi stressed that the number of judges who will supervise the referendum is enough.
Zakaria Abdel-Aziz, chairman of the Judges for Egypt Movement, said, “the judges’ decision to supervise the referendum doesn’t prevent any of the opposing judges from individually boycotting the supervision process.”
Abdel-Aziz believes that country’s welfare should be taken into consideration before taking any opposition stand. “This state of stagnation must end in order to give a chance for the wheel of production to turn,” said Abdel-Aziz.
The number of judges required to supervise the referendum, according to Abdel-Aziz, does not exceed 9,000. “This number of judges which will be sent to polling stations all over Egypt is more than enough,” he added.
Judges will preside over 9,334 voting booths, 351 main polling stations and 13,099 sub-polling stations.
IJM judges who declared on 10 December their intention to monitor the referendum earlier announced their boycott. Ahmed Suleiman, head of the IJM judges, said, “we are concerned more with the country’s welfare than our own interests. Egypt is going through a very critical stage these days.”
Deputy head of the Court of Cassation Mohamed Derbala said that the IJM represents many of their colleagues from all over the country. “Judges who will participate in the monitoring process will be honoured to perform such a patriotic mission. Their unity could only be accomplished by respecting the values and traditions of the judiciary system as well as refraining from any political affiliations,” he said.
Derbala, who called on other judges to follow their path, said, “we stress that we shall supervise the referendum.” At the same time, he praised the stance of the Administrative Judiciary system for agreeing on monitoring the referendum.
Despite this, the IJM’s decision was not welcomed by many judges who were attending the meeting, thus marking a split between judges. More than 30 judges withdrew from the meeting amid chants against the draft constitution and the new constitutional declaration.