File photo: National salvation front (Photo: Snapshot Al-Jazeera)
Egypt's main opposition bloc the National Salvation Front (NSF) held a press conference on Monday calling for demonstrations at the Shura Council, Egypt’s upper house of parliament and current legislative body, when a proposed judicial authority law is due to be discussed.
The Council is planning to discuss a new judicial authority law – proposed by the Islamist Wasat Party - which would lower the retirement age of judges and lead to the forced retirement of over 3,000.
The move comes after deputies of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and its allied Wasat Party launched scathing attacks against the judiciary, accusing a large number of them of corruption and of leading a counterrevolution against Islamist President Mohamed Morsi.
The NSF's Hamdeen Sabbahi stressed that the planned demonstration should be adopted by all Egyptians including "those MPs who support democracy.” He urged the revolutionary youth to be involved as well in "this struggle for judicial independence."
"What happened today against the judiciary is as big of a crime as the [now cancelled] constitutional declaration to which the NSF was formed as a reaction," stressed Sabbahi.
The controversial proposed amendment, which was largely condemned by the judiciary and led justice minister Ahmed Mekki to resign, is perceived by the opposition as an attempt at "Brotherhoodising" the judiciary and as an infringement on judicial independence.
An NSF statement released on Monday said that "the NSF stresses its complete rejection of all steps taken against the judiciary in the name of 'purging of the judiciary' and by drafting a law targeting more than 3,000 judges…the only aim of this law is to Brotherhoodise the judiciary."
"The Front is confident that all Egyptians will defend their judiciary…we are defending the people's right to an independent judiciary," the statement concluded.
At the conference, Wahid Abdel-Meguid, who was announced as the NSF's new official spokesperson, further clarified that the group’s General Coordinator, liberal figure Mohamed ElBaradei, had been misquoted in saying that the Front had changed its stance regarding parliamentary elections and that its members were planning to participate.
"We need first to be granted the guarantee of free and fair elections that we have been long demanding," he insisted.
Speaking at the press conference, ElBaradei insisted that there were no splits within the Front between those planning to take part in elections and others planning to boycott, as has been reported after he was misquoted.
"There are no divisions within the NSF… we agreed we will not participate in the elections until our five guarantees are granted. If they are met we will engage in national dialogue with the purpose of amending the constitution and reaching national consensus," ElBaradei clarified.
The NSF had repeatedly called for guarantees as a condition of its participation in national parliamentary elections. The guarantees include full judicial supervision, the formation of a neutral legal committee that would work on amending the constitution, and the formation of an unbiased government which will supervise the elections.
When asked, ElBaradei further reiterated the NSF's demands for a government reshuffle but added that the group will not participate in a “fake democracy circus,” hinting that none of the Front's members will accept ministerial positions if offered.
A government reshuffle is expected to be announced within a week.
It is not yet known exactly when the Shura Council will discuss the proposed judicial authority law; however, the Muslim Brotherhood and their Islamist allies have also over the past weeks been escalating their stand against what they perceive as a corrupt judiciary.
Thousands demonstrated at the High Court on Friday under the banner "purging the judiciary.” Protests turned violent when anti-Brotherhood protesters attacked the demonstration. The demonstration has also caused justice minister Ahmed Mekki to resign, protesting in the letter he sent to the president accusations of corruption propagated by the Brotherhood.
President Mohamed Morsi, who hails from the Brotherhood, refused to state his position on the new law during an interview with Al-Jazeera television channel on Saturday, saying it was up to the democratically-elected legislature to decide on the issue.