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Verdict overruling Egypt prosecutor-general's appointment reignites debate

Court verdict overturning Morsi's appointment of new prosecutor-general Talaat Abdullah in place of Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud last year, provokes controversy over yet another tug-of-war between president and judiciary

Ayat Al-Tawy, Wednesday 27 Mar 2013
Abdel Meguid Mahmoud
Egypt's former prosecutor-general Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud (Photo: Reuters)
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An Egyptian appeal court reversed on Wednesday President Morsi's November 2012 decision to appoint a new prosecutor-general.

President Morsi dismissed the country's top prosecutor Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud and appointed Talaat Abdullah to the post within the context of a legislative void in November 2012, via a highly controversial constitutional declaration.

According to the Arabic text of the verdict, "law 386 of year 2012 to appoint Talaat Ibrahim Abdullah [as the country's prosecutor-general] is declared null and void and all its implications are cancelled."

The court verdict has been hailed by observers who, along with pro-opposition critics, believe that through the declaration Morsi had granted himself sweeping powers, both executive and legislative.

Ahmed El-Zend, head of Egypt's Judges' Club, applauded the verdict, which he described as "a new history for Egypt, the judiciary and the oppressors."

According to El-Zend, Egypt's Justice Minister Ahmed Mekki is required by law to uphold the verdict, otherwise "he would be subject to penalty."

"Now, it's either that [parties involved] embark on a saga of appeals and battles, or [current Morsi-appointed prosecutor-general] Talaat Abdullah just initiates by stepping down to uphold the ruling without battles," El-Zend said in televised comments on Wednesday following the court verdict.

For his part, Shawky El-Sayyed, prominent lawyer and constitution pundit, commented that according to the court ruling, Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud will be reinstated to his position "even if for one day."

El-Sayyed went on to voice expectations that the presidency would not appeal the verdict "otherwise, this would be a continuing defiance from the presidency against the Egyptian judiciary."  

He blamed such "legal chaos" on the inept handling of the situation by Morsi's legal advisors.

Hassan Yassin, aide to the prosecutor-general, told Ahram Online that the appeal court’s verdict is unconstitutional on the grounds that the transitional articles of the newly-ratified constitution have shielded all constitutional declarations – issued by both the once ruling military council and the country's elected president – from any appeal.  

According to Article 236 of the constitution, all constitutional declarations are considered void after the new constitution is passed but all consequent verdicts will remain valid.

“The State Litigation Authority is the only body entitled to take legal actions in the Court of Cassation to overturn this verdict,” added Yassin. “The verdict is not irreversible,” he said.

Mohamed Hamed El-Gamal, former head of Egypt’s State Council and a prominent constitutional expert, told Ahram Online that “the Brotherhood and its president have been seeking to create legislative tools to enable the executive authority to crack down on the judicial authority."

"The judiciary has been trying to stand up to these attempts,” he said.

El-Gamal said that Morsi's decision to dismiss Mahmoud and appoint the current prosecutor-general is an administrative one and that it is up to the court to overrule it.

“The judiciary is the one which decides the nature of a certain decision and the fact that the president renders his decree a 'constitutional declaration' does not mean that the court cannot re-identify it as an administrative decision,” he added.

In October 2012, Morsi dismissed Mahmoud from his post, which he had held since 2006, and appointed him Egypytian Ambassador to the Vatican.

Morsi's attempt to replace Mahmoud was prompted by growing fury at the acquittal of Mubarak-era officials charged with orchestrating the famous Battle of the Camel attack in Tahrir Square.

Twenty-one protesters were killed and hundreds injured during the attack, when plain-clothed assailants, some on horse and camelback, violently attacked a sit-in in the flashpoint square in February 2011.

Mahmoud, backed by many of the judiciary, argued that Morsi's attempt to replace him went beyond his presidential mandate.

Two days later, Mahmoud held a press conference at his office at the Egyptian Supreme Court, defying the president's decision and insisting he still retained his post.

A meeting was held on the same day between the president and Mahmoud, after which Morsi's Vice-President, Mahmoud Mekki, announced that media has falsely transmitted news of Mahmoud's dismissal, asserting that he was offered a post as Egypt's ambassador.

It was announced afterwards that President Morsi had agreed to allow Mahmoud to keep his job after an embarrassing public row.

In November 2012, a few months after Egypt's People's Assembly (lower house of parliament) was ruled unconstitutional and disbanded, President Morsi issued a controversial constitutional declaration widening his powers and placing his decisions above judicial review.

Among the articles of the declaration was one dismissing the country's prosecutor-general and replacing him with Talaat Abdullah.

Under the Egyptian legal system, the prosecutor-general can only be dismissed by a judicial decree, not by the president.

The dismissal of Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud has been one of the major demands of pro-revolution groups since the ousting of former president Mubarak in February 2011.

Pro-revolution critics argued that his office failed to pursue those implicated in the killing of Egyptian protesters over nearly two years of political turmoil since the outbreak of the country's popular uprising.

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