Egypt's judges divided over Morsi's controversial decrees

Ahram Online, MENA, Randa Ali, Hatem Maher, Saturday 24 Nov 2012

Judges' Club holds extraordinary general assembly to denounce recent constitutional decrees by president Morsi; 'Judges for Egypt' supports decrees and calls opponents 'remnants' of Mubarak regime

Ahmed El-Zend, the head of the Judge's Club - a fierce critic of the president - at the general assembly (Photo: Snapshot from Al -Jazeera live stream Egypt)

Egypt's judiciary battled one another in separate extraordinary meetings and assemblies on Saturday over president Mohamed Morsi's recently issued constitutional decrees. Some condemned the president's moves while others charged opponents of Morsi are lackeys for the ousted regime of Hosni Mubarak.

Judges' Club slams Morsi

Hundreds of judges held an extraordinary general assembly for the Judges' Club at the High Court headquarters in downtown Cairo to discuss measures against President Morsi's constitutional decree issued Thursday, which they argue oversteps their judicial jurisdiction and independence.

Meanwhile, during an emergency meeting on Saturday afternoon, Egypt's Supreme Judiciary Council (SJC) issued a statement expressing their disappointment over the decrees and described Morsi's move as "unprecedented attack on judiciary independence."

Courts and prosecution offices in the Delta governorate of Qalioubiya went on strike Saturday.

The primary court of Egypt's second-largest city, Alexandria, likewise went on strike and further issued a statement on Saturday demanding the retraction of the recent constitutional declaration.

The chief of the Judges' Club of Alexandria, Mohamed Ezzat El-Agwa announced "the suspension of work in all courts and prosecution administrations in the governorates of Alexandria and Beheira... until the end of the crisis caused by this declaration," according to AFP reporting.

Several anti-Muslim Brotherhood figures have joined the extraordinary assembly.

Former parliament member Mohamed Abou-Hamed, outspoken lawyer Mortada Mansour and former MP Mostafa Bakry and Nasserist Adel Hammouda are present in the assembly, which is taking place in Egypt’s High Judiciary Court.

The quartet is known for being staunch opponents of the influential Islamist group.

Signalling their growing contempt, the usually conservative judges chanted “the people demand the downfall of the regime”.

Former general prosecutor Abdel Meguid Mahmoud, who was sacked following Morsi’s decree, spoke at length, saying he would legally challenge the president’s decision to relieve him of his duties.

Mahmoud attempted to rebutt accusations that his office was slow or ineffective in prosecuting those who killed unarmed protesters after the January 25 uprising by pointing fingers at the ministry of interior for not referring any suspects to his office.

Mahmoud slammed the ministry of interior saying that it failed to provide the prosecutors with evidence or suspects in the violent attacks against the anti-SCAF protesters in 2011.

"The ministry of interior has never referred any suspects to the office of the prosecutor general in the Two Saints church bombing in January 2010, Maspero massacre October 2011, Mohamed Mahoumd clashes in November 2011 and the cabinet clashes December  2011." 

Head of the lawyers’ syndicate Sameh Ashour also said he fully endorses the judges in their bid to challenge Morsi.

“The country’s fate is in your hands now, if you decided to strike, we will strike. If you decided to stage a sit-in, we will join you,” he said.

The newly-announced constitutional declaration says that the president's decisions cannot be overturned by any judicial authority – putting him out of judicial reach.

The council urged the president to drop the decree to preserve judicial independence.

Twenty members of the independent Judiciary Movement also issued a statement on Saturday rejecting the constitutional declaration.

The independent Judiciary Movement is a group of judges that demanded reform and judiciary independence in 2005 following massive vote-rigging in the presidential elections under ousted president Mubarak's rule.

"This is an unjustified apostasy that hinders the independence of judiciary, freedoms and rights," reads the statement referring to Morsi's constitutional declaration.

Judges warn that although within Morsi's bundle of decisions, he did concede some of the people's demands, it nevertheless jeopardised democracy and freedoms.

"Calling for re-trials and investigations the way it was done through the constitutional decree undermines the judiciary's independence and guarantees, which will lead to the devaluation of court verdicts," the independent Judiciary Movement argues.

Meanwhile, outside the High Court, hundreds of protesters who marched to protest against president Mohamed Morsi's decree were attacked by unknown assailants in the late afternoon hours.

The liberal Constitution Party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and the liberal Wafd Party came to the court to voice support to judges.

Ahram Online reporters at the scene said the demonstrators were attacked with fireworks, which stirred panic among them as everyone ran aimlessly to escape violence.

Police dispersed protesters using tear gas canisters.

Judges For Egypt supports Morsi

However not all Judges opposed the president's move.

The reform judges caucus"Judges for Egypt" declared on Saturday their support for President Mohamed Morsi's newly issued constitutional declaration.

Judges for Egypt held a meeting in opposition to the general assembly called for by the Judges' Club.

The group's official spokesperson Walid Sharaby stated to Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr news channel that the Judges for Egypt meeting was attended by hundreds of their members.

Sharaby said that their meeting, like that of the Judges Club, could have been attended by political figures, especially from the Freedom and Justice Party, the Nour Party in addition to others, but said the judges wished to remain politically neutral.

"We are honoured that our meeting [to support the constitutional declaration] was not attended by members of the High Constitutional Court (HCC). We know of their orientation; they only seek to restore the old Mubarak regime," the spokesperson stated to Al-Jazeera.

The HCC has frequently accused the Morsi appointed Justice Minister Ahmed Mekki and the Islamist-led Constituent Assembly tasked with drafting Egypt's new constitution of attempting to infringe upon its authorities.

Sharaby also charged the Judges Club had no right to issue decisions as its extraordinary assembly was not attended by all of its members. He also attacked the speech given at the assembly by the Head of Judges Club Ahmed El-Zend, a fierce Morsi critic, saying it was "politicised".

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