Hisham El-Bastawisi
Hatem Maher, Monday 2 Apr 2012

A prominent reformist judge and a well-known political figure, Hisham El-Bastawisi played a leading role in the battle for judicial independence under the regime of Hosni Mubarak.

Born in 1951 in Cairo, El-Bastawisi went on to graduate with a law degree from Cairo University in 1976.

He is married to Olfat Salah El-Sahly, the daughter of well-known attorney Salah El-Sahly in whose office El-Bastawisi trained after he graduated from law school.

He has three sons: Mohamed who received a bachelor degree in engineering, Ahmed and Mustafa who are both law students.

Before the revolution

El-Bastawisi worked for eight years as a deputy prosecutor at the customs authority and the minors authority in Alexandria. Moving back to Cairo in 1988, he became a judge in the Cassation Court.

Apart from a four-year stint as a legal counsellor in the United Arab Emirates in the 1990s, El-Bastawisi’s spent most of his career as a judge in Egypt.

He is known for standing up against Egypt’s autocratic regime, having played a key role in the struggle for judicial independence in the last decade of Hosni Mubarak’s rule.

El-Bastawisi was a leading figure in the reformist movement for the independence of the judiciary, and played an important role in the confrontation between judges and the Mubarak regime when judges refused to supervise the 2005 elections which they described as fraudulent.

He and other judges, after a long public struggle, decided document the abuses, vote-rigging and fraud of the vote.

El-Bastawisi was among a handful of leading judges who spoke to international media about the judges’ demands, and who detailed the Ministry of Justice’s attempts to control judges both through direct intimidation and by manipulating salaries and promotions.

As a result of his opposition tothe regime, in 2006 Justice Minister Mahmoud Abul-Leil ordered him and a colleague, Mahmoud Mekki, to appear before a disciplinary tribunal, which El-Bastawisi described as an unconstitutional procedure.

Several judges threatened to go on strike if the two were removed from the bench, and some went on hunger strike as the hearings were proceeding.

Dozens of activists demonstrated to support El-Bastawisi and Mekki, and several were beaten and arrested in clashes with security forces.

El-Bastawisi suffered a heart attack during the investigation. Tens of supporters visited him in hospital while hundreds continued to demonstrate against the prosecution of the two judges.

Eventually, public pressure pushed the government to settle on issuing a light reprimand to El-Bastawisi and his colleague.

Still, though charges were dropped, government harassment and surveillance of El-Bastawisi and his wife continued after the case prompting them to move to Kuwait to seek employment in 2008.

The revolution and beyond

El-Bastawisi returned to Egypt in January 2011 in the midst of the 18-day sit-in that culminated in the ouster of Mubarak.

He publicly endorsed the popular uprising and participated in several demonstrations.

El-Bastawisi took a six-month break from his job as a judge in order to freely explore his political options, and announced his intention to run for the presidency in March 2011.

Since Mubarak fell, he has also taken part in several demonstrations against the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).

However, he temporarily suspended plans to contest the presidential elections last November following clashes between security forces and protesters in Mohamed Mahmoud Street, which left more than 40 dead and scores injured.

He said at the time that it was “shameful” to talk about the presidential race while people were sacrificing their lives for the country.

In the winter of 2011, he took a break from his current position as the deputy to the chief justice of the Cassation Court to work in Kuwait for a few months for financial reasons.

He was endorsed by the left-wing Tagammu Party in March of 2012, and, in this way, overcame the hurdle of gathering 30,000 recommendations from citizens to get on the ballot.

Winning Cards

* His anti-Mubarak stances and struggle for judicial independence helped El-Bastawisi build a following among liberal and leftist intellectuals.

Odds against

* Aside from the official endorsement from the left-wing Tagammu Party, which allowed him to bypass a lengthy and costly fight to collect 30,000 signatures in 15 governorates, El-Bastawisi is not backed by any other powerful political force, and has limited financial resources.

* Some critics believe that El-Bastawisi's electoral prospects, though he is not a self-identified leftist, may suffer due to the presence of other leftist presidential candidates with liberal views on social issues similar to his, which include Bothaina Kamel, Khaled Ali, Hamdeen Sabbahi and Abul-Ezz El-Hariri who also have strong anti-Mubarak credentials.

To view profiles of other major candidates in the 2012 presidential elections,click here