Egypt's Judges Club calls for presidential apology

Ahram Online, Wednesday 24 Apr 2013

Rift between presidency and judges grows wider as unofficial judges union brands Islamist critics 'degraded and dishonest'

Veteran judge Ahmed El-Zend
Veteran judge Ahmed El-Zend (Photo: AO)

Veteran judge Ahmed El-Zend, who is head of unofficial judicial union the Judges Club, called on President Mohamed Morsi to apologise for "insults" directed at Egypt's judiciary by Islamist figures.

As the Judges Club held an extraordinary general assembly Wednesday at the High Court, which was surrounded by dozens of demonstrators supporting the judiciary against Islamist criticisms, El-Zend once again hit back at Islamists who have been questioning the integrity of the Egyptian judiciary.

El-Zend, who described the Judges Clubs as the "elected body that represents Egypt's judges," said that Morsi, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood, "must tender an apology to Egyptian judges for the insults they have faced.”

During the Judges Club meeting, a video was shown of a number of Islamist figures taking swipes against the judicial system and the group, including Assem Abdel-Maged of the ultra-conservative Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya, pro-Muslim Brotherhood preacher Wagdi Ghoniem, and, in an audio recording, the Brotherhood's former supreme guide, Mahdi Akef.

The video also showed Morsi heaping praise on the Judges Club and El-Zend for the "role they played to stand against the 2005 [parliamentary] elections," and assuring that "judicial verdicts are undoubtedly respected."

Critics of the judicial system mainly cite the release of a number of former regime figures who are facing multiple criminal charges since the 2011 revolution, which ended the rule of former president Hosni Mubarak over two years ago. Such allegations, El-Zend said, are not acceptable.

"The judiciary mustn't be influenced by anything but the power of the law," he said from the podium in the attendance of hundreds of formally dressed judges. "It should not fear nor favour anyone," added El-Zend, who received several zealous ovations while speaking.  

El-Zend branded the Islamists, who accuse the judiciary of corruption, as "degraded and dishonest,” daring all critics to come up with evidence that proves that judges are corrupt.

He also praised the political groups that have stood by the judiciary against the attacks, including the main opposition group the National Salvation Front, and the Salafist Nour Party, which refused to take part in the anti-judiciary protest last Friday.

Friday’s protests were called for by the Muslim Brotherhood and joined by other Islamist parties. The Watan Party, the Salafist Front’s Al-Asala Party, former presidential candidate Hazem Salah Abu-Ismail's Al-Raya Party, and the ultra-conservative Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya's Building and Development Party were among the participants.

Near the High Court in central Cairo, thousands of protesters called on the Shura Council, the upper house of parliament which currently holds legislative powers, to pass the new judicial authority law, which would see the reduction of judges' retirement age from 70 to 60, something opposed by many judges and political forces.

Hours before El-Zend spoke at the same High Court Wednesday, Islamist MPs in the Shura Council's legislative and constitutional affairs committee on Wednesday green-lit the potential amendments to the judicial authority law.

The amendments now should be referred back to the Shura Council for further discussion. In case it is also approved by the council, it will be referred back to the committee to discuss the amendments one by one.

The Shura Council, the upper house of parliament, currently holds legislative authority, until a new lower chamber of parliament is elected under the name the House of Representatives.

El-Zend reiterated that only the House of Representatives is entitled to pass and amend laws, not the Shura Council. He also threatened that legal action would be taken against critics, should they keep on attacking the judicial system.

A tug-of-war between the presidency, which has been backed by the majority of the Islamists, and the judiciary was triggered in November 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.

The 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. He announced he would step down, but had a change of heart the next day.

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 should determine his future.

Morsi’s critics believe the constitutional declaration was a dictatorial decision, mockingly accusing Abdullah of being the “private” prosecutor of the president and the Brotherhood. Morsi’s supporters, meanwhile, are convinced that the step was important to get rid of the Mubarak-era prosecutor general, whom they largely blame for the release in recent months of a number of Mubarak era officials, tried on different charges.

The constitutional declaration also made the Brotherhood-dominated upper house of parliament, the Shura Council, immune from dissolution by a potential court order, following the dismantling of the People’s Assembly.

The High Constitutional Court (HCC) instigating the dismantling of the Brotherhood-majority People's Assembly (the lower house of Parliament that is yet to be elected under the name of House of Representatives) after declaring the law that regulated the last parliamentary elections unconstitutional. Morsi tried last year to reinstate the dissolved People's Assembly but his decree was overturned by the HCC two days later.

"We have seen that those who attack the judiciary are also against constitutionality," El-Zend stated.

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