L-R: Mohamed Mahsoub of the Islamist Wasat Party and Mohamed El-Beltagy of the Muslim Brotherhood (Photo: Ahram Online)
Egypt's National Conscience Front lambasted Saturday veteran judge Ahmed El-Zend for "demanding foreign interference" in domestic affairs, in the latest development in the judiciary-presidency conflict saga.
El-Zend, head of the unofficial judicial union the Judges Club, has been spearheading counterattacks on Islamist forces who have been calling for a "purge of the judiciary" while pushing forward controversial amendments to the judicial authority law.
In recent press conferences, El-Zend sounded disgruntlement with protests against the judicial system, expressing astonishment over the fact that the US "did not do anything concerning the flagrant encroachments of Egypt's judiciary." His statements drew fierce criticism against him, with many considering it as a call for the US to intervene in a domestic dispute.
After El-Zend underlined last week that he did not mean to invite foreign interference, the Conscience Front demanded that he should be held "legally and politically" accountable for his statements, which the front described during a Saturday press conference as "ignorance of the meaning of patriotism and international law."
El-Zend along with hundreds of judges have been protesting the new proposed judicial authority law, which would see a reduction of the age of retirement from 70 to 60. El-Zend and colleagues have said the purpose behind that law is to introduce new Brotherhood-loyal judges, replacing around 3,500 judges that would be force retired should the law be ratified.
The Shura Council's Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee on Wednesday gave its assent for the potential amendments to the judicial authority law. The amendments should be referred back to the Shura Council for further discussion. In case approved by the council, the amendments will be referred back to the committee to discuss the amendments one by one.
While reading the National Conscience Front's statement, Mohamed El-Beltagy — a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party, and also one of the front's leading figures — said that the Shura Council is under attack, so as to ensure it cannot "fulfill its duties to ratify legislation," which would "turn the new constitution into mere ink on paper."
The Shura Council, the upper house of parliament, currently holds legislative authority until a new lower chamber of parliament — the House of Representatives — is elected.
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.
The National Conscience Front includes several political figures, mainly from the Islamist current, including former Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mohamed Mahsoub, legal expert Ramadan Bateekh, former Islamist presidential candidate Mohamed Selim El-Awa, Ghad Al-Thawra Party leader Ayman Nour, and ex-parliamentarian Mohamed Mohieddin.
The front has been subject to fierce criticism since its launch, with detractors accusing it of being a "contrived" opposition that aims to take pressure off the presidency. Its critics have been quick to point out that the front contains a number of prominent Islamist figures under its umbrella. Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi hails from the Muslim Brotherhood.