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Egypt's Brotherhood calls for 'judicial purge' at Friday rally

Islamist group says judiciary must be 'cleansed of corrupt officials who are trying to stifle Egypt's progress'

Sherif Tarek, Osman El Sharnoubi, Thursday 18 Apr 2013
Mahdi Akef
Former Muslim Brotherhood's supreme-guide Mahdi Akef has led the recent attack on "corrupt" judges (Photo: Ahram)
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Once again the Muslim Brotherhood is heading for a faceoff with Egypt’s judiciary.

The Islamist group has announced its intention to stage a mass protest on Friday calling for fundamental changes to the judicial system.

It is a move that some analysts say could further damage the Islamist group's relationship with the judiciary.

The Brotherhood, from which President Morsi hails, has named four demands it will call for during the "million-man" protest in front of the High Court in downtown Cairo and "all the squares in Egypt."

Topping the demands, which were published in a statement on Wednesday, is for the Islamist-dominated Shura Council (upper house of parliament) to ratify a new judicial authority law, which would "achieve independence for the judiciary."

The other three demands are:

  • Purge all state institutions of corrupt figures via the necessary revolutionary procedures.
  • Put on trial all those responsible for killing protesters (during and after the 2011 revolution), and likewise the former regime figures who ruined Egypt's political life.
  • Retrieve the funds stolen (by the Mubarak oligarchy).

On Tuesday, the parliamentary committee of the moderate Islamist Wasat Party, founded by Brotherhood defectors, called for the sacking of the government, especially the "incompetent" justice and information ministers.

The same committee also suggested the ratification of a new judicial law, which would see the reduction of judges’ retirement age from 70 to 60, something opposed by many judges.

Judges verses Brotherhood

On Thursday, the Freedom and Justice Party's Ezzeddin Al-Komi, deputy leader of the Shura Council human rights committee, told state news agency MENA that his party is studying the Wasat Party's judicial reform proposals.

"The next phase of Egypt’s progress on the path of democratisation must include many actions and draft laws that reform and improve the judicial system ... We call for a broad societal dialogue about these laws," said Al-Komi.

"Timely and fair justice is one of the objectives of the January 25 Revolution. But recent acquittals [of senior government officials accused of killing protesters and/or corruption] have shocked Egyptian society and caused frustration and disappointment. They have made many people think seriously about the need to reform the judiciary."

Supporters of President Morsi accuse the judiciary of blocking vital reforms and being loyal to former president Hosni Mubarak.

On the other side, Judges' Club leader Ahmed El-Zend does not hide his fury towards the “ongoing attack on the judiciary."

The upcoming marches are an “illusion that will lead to nothing,” he said.

In telephone interview with Ahmed Mousa on Tahrir TV satellite channel, El-Zend stressed that “the judges will defend their independence to the last breath.”

The current administration is trying to “sabotage all the modern state institutions,” he added.

El-Zend said the Shura Council is “illegitimate and has no authority to pass any laws.”

The judiciary accuses President Morsi of attempting to retrain judicial independence and replace judges with Brotherhood sympathisers.

This tug-of-war between the presidency and the judiciary was triggered in late 2012 after a constitutional declaration by President Morsi gave him the power to sack the Mubarak-era prosecutor-general Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud and appoint Talaat Abdullah in his place.

Morsi had previously tried to remove Mahmoud by sending him to serve as Egypt’s ambassador to the Vatican, but had to backtrack when Mahmoud refused to move.

Morsi’s appointment of Abdullah via the constitutional declaration prompted hundreds of judges and prosecutors to protest outside the prosecutor-general's office to demand Abdullah’s resignation.

On 27 March, a court reversed Morsi's decision to dismiss Mahmoud and replace him with Abdullah. However, the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC), which under the new constitution is responsible for appointing Egypt's top prosecutor, does not have the power to dismiss him. Abdullah therefore remains in the job. A final appeal will determine his future.

The constitutional declaration also made the Brotherhood-dominated upper house of parliament immune from dissolution by a potential court order, a fate which had befallen the lower house (People’s Assembly) which was dissolved by a High Constitutional Court (HCC) order in June 2012.

Morsi tried to reinstate the dissolved People’s Assembly, but his decree was overturned by the HCC two days later.

Brotherhood's Mahdi Akef "insults" judiciary

Earlier this month, a number of appeal court judges lodged a request with the SJC and Court of Cassation, calling for an investigation into former Brotherhood supreme-guide Mahdi Akef.

The judges asked for an impartial investigation into statements made by Akef in a recent interview with a Kuwaiti newspaper in which, the judges claim, Akef "insulted" certain judges.

"[Egyptian] judges are corrupt," Akef said in the interview. "They're the ones who dissolved [Egypt's] last parliament [last summer] … because they were afraid of the laws it would adopt.

"This is because the first law it was going to approve was one to retire some 3,500 judges aged over 60," Akef said.

He added: "In order to achieve Egypt's national revival, you must seek out those who support the notion of a renaissance. Then you find the court and the judges working together to dissolve parliament. Corrupt judges don't want Egypt's revival."

Akef’s statements came in the wake of a number of acquittals of Mubarak regime figures who were incriminated in corruption cases, such as Safwat El-Sherif, former secretary general of Mubarak's now-defunct National Democratic Party (NDP). It is also widely speculated that Mubarak will be released in the near future.

Critics believe the acquittals of Mubarak’s oligarchs show the judiciary is corrupt.

Popular Salafist preacher and head of the newly founded Al-Raya Party, Hazem Salah Abu-Ismail, has called on his supporters to join the rally on Friday, Al-Ahram’s Arabic news website reported. The largest Salafist party, Al-Nour, however, has said it will not take part.

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