Egypt's judicial authorities fell under unprecedented criticism by the People's Assembly – the lower house of Egypt's Islamist-dominated Parliament – in a stormy session on Sunday morning. The assembly, led by Muslim Brotherhood MPs, decided to draw up a committee tasked with investigating judicial corruption and discussing legislation required to do so.
The parliamentary session was held one day after a Cairo criminal court sentenced ousted president Hosni Mubarak and his long-time interior minister Habib El-Adly to life imprisonment for participating in the killing of protesters during last year's Tahrir Square uprising.
Parliamentary Speaker Saad El-Katatni said that, although Parliament fully respected the principle of the separation of powers, it could not help commenting on a ruling that provoked the anger of much of the Egyptian public. "No sooner had the judge issued the verdict than the people began calling for another revolution," said El-Katatni, adding that the verdict "came as a shock to the families of the victims of the revolution, to the protesters and to all Egyptians who had expected justice."
El-Katatni and other MPs agreed that the acquittal of six of Mubarak's former security chiefs of charges of killing unarmed demonstrators during the uprising had left Egyptians in a state of dismay. "People wonder: if they were innocent, then who killed the protesters?" said El-Katatni.
El-Katatni and fellow parliamentarians also charged several state agencies, especially the general intelligence and national security apparatus, of destroying evidence against the six defendants.
MPs from the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) mounted a sharp attack on Egypt's judiciary, singling out Ahmed Refaat – the judge responsible for acquitting the police officers – for particular censure.
Other liberal MPs, such as the Free Egyptians Party's Ahmed Said, accused FJP MPs of exploiting Saturday's ruling to promote Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate in a presidential runoff poll scheduled for 16 and 17 June. "We should rise above events, not use them for political ends," said Free Egyptians MP Ahmed Said.
For his part, FJP spokesman Hussein Ibrahim argued that "the executive authority" should be held accountable for not providing sufficient testimony and evidence to fully prosecute the security chiefs and secure the ousted president's execution.
Ibrahim – along with several Salafist and liberal MPs – demanded a retrial for Mubarak. Ibrahim sharply attacked Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Fayza Abul-Naga for "asking the people to respect judicial orders." He said Abul-Naga "should be the last one to say this," since she had been "a pillar of the Mubarak regime."
Salafist MP Younis Makhyoun, meanwhile, accused Mubarak's now-defunct State Security apparatus of playing the largest role in shredding the documents needed to send culpable security chiefs to prison. "The 2 June ruling paves the way for Mubarak and El-Adly to appeal the verdict and be acquitted of murder charges," said Makhyoun. For this reason, Makhyoun requested that "special revolutionary courts be set up to put Mubarak and his criminal gang on trial."
Wafdist MP and lawyer Mahmoud El-Sakka, for his part, launched a scathing attack against Judge Refaat, accusing him of committing three grave errors.
"He [Refaat] made legal, linguistic and humanitarian mistakes," said El-Sakka, adding that "the judge surprised everyone by delivering a lecture on the Mubarak regime's crimes before stating his verdict, and this was a big mistake." He added: "Judicial protocol all over the world is that you deliver the verdict first and then explain your rationale – not the other way around."
Liberal MP and Al-Ahram political analyst Emad Gad, however, appeared to go against the tide on this point. "Everyone should respect the law and the independence of the judiciary," he said. "Judicial rulings should not be politicised and MPs should respect the rule of law."
FJP MP Essam El-Erian, chairman of Parliament's foreign affairs committee, meanwhile, accused Egypt's intelligence community and other security apparatuses of directing an ongoing counter-revolution. "I say to all those who seek to reanimate the Mubarak regime that you will be vanquished and that Mubarak and his gang will be re-tried in a much fairer way," he said.
FJP MP Mohamed El-Beltagi, for his part, lashed out at Prosecutor-General Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud. “Although the crimes which were committed against unarmed protesters [during last year's uprising] are available on Facebook and YouTube, the prosecutor-general was unable to provide the evidence necessary to send the defendants to prison," he said.
El-Beltagi extended his criticisms to include Egypt's ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF). “The SCAF should be warned not to attack any protesters until power is transferred to a civil authority," he said. He went on to ask Parliament's legislative and constitutional committee to issue new legislation within three days to form "special tribunals" mandated with trying former regime stalwarts.
El-Beltagi clashed with independent firebrand MP Mustafa Bakri, who said that "a fact-finding commission should be set up to determine who torched police stations during the revolution and who shot protesters from the rooftops surrounding Tahrir Square." Bakri was alluding to former intelligence chief Omar Suleiman's accusations that the Muslim Brotherhood was behind the torching of police stations, while agents of Palestinian resistance faction Hamas and Lebanese resistance movement Hezbullah had had roles in killing Tahrir Square protesters.
Independent MP Hamdi El-Fakharani, for his part, accused Judge Refaat of corruption. "Refaat illegally obtained land in Wadi Al-Natroun [in Egypt's Western Desert] and I plan to file charges against him in this regard," said El-Fakharani. He added that he was currently in the process of drafting new legislation with the aim of changing the way Egypt's prosecutor-general is selected.
In the face of these criticisms, Deputy Justice Minister Omar El-Sherif warned that there must be real separation between the three branches of government – the judiciary, the legislative and the executive.
"The constitution dictates that the legislative authority cannot exercise oversight on the judicial authority; the law leaves the way clear for those who want to appeal any verdict, with the final word left to Egypt's Court of Cassation,” said Sherif. "What I see now is an example of clear aggression against the principle of the separation of powers."
El-Katanti wrapped up the four-hour meeting with a decision to form a committee mandated with discussing MPs' proposals for legislation aimed at safeguarding the revolution and ensuring the sovereignty of Egypt's judiciary.