All indicators on the Egyptian scene appear to imply that the Islamist-majority Shura Council, Egypt’s upper house of Parliament, currently assigned with legislation, is bent on passing a law for the ‘reform’ of the judiciary.
Major among the changes to be brought on by the new law would be lowering the retirement age for judges from the current 70 to 60 years; of age; a move guaranteed to put out of service some 3500 judges, almost a quarter of the number of judges in Egypt, at one stroke.
Egyptian judges see the new law as yet another blow against them by the Islamist ruling regime which, they claim, aims at replacing the current judges with ones belonging to the Islamist stream. They have vociferously fought against the proposed law—currently under discussion by the legislative committee of the Shura—and vowed they would never accept it. Since their efforts have been overruled by the ruling Islamists, they have threatened to take their case to the international community.
On 20 May, an international conference to discuss safeguarding the independence of the judiciary was held in Cairo by the Judges’ Club, the independent body representing Egyptian Judges. The conference hosted Gerhard Reissner, president of the International Association of Judges (IAJ).
“The amendment to the Judiciary Law reducing the retirement age for judges violates international standards,” Dr Reissner said.
He announced the formation of a commission to investigate the feud between the judiciary and the government in Egypt, and said that the commission would review the legality of the proposed new law for the judiciary. The IAJ, Dr Reissner said, plans to present a comprehensive report on the matter to the United Nations, after hearing all parties.
A fundamental problem facing the judiciary in Egypt, according to Dr Reissner, is the instability of State institutions, including the legislative authority. Elections for Egypt’s House of Representatives are currently stalled until a new law for parliamentary elections is passed; the law currently approved by the Shura has been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Constitutional Court.
He also stated that the dismissal of former Prosecutor-General Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud and the appointment of Talaat Abdallah in his place last November through President Mohamed Mursi’s constitutional decree was illegal and unconstitutional.
Lowering of the retirement age for judges goes against international standards, Dr Reissner insisted, jeopardises the independence of the judiciary, and is something the IAJ finds “unacceptable.”
So much for freedom
The IAJ president strongly rejected the idea that Chairman of the Judges’ Club Ahmed al-Zind was attempting to invoke international interference in Egyptian domestic affairs, saying that his job as IAJ representative was to speak with various groups in the country and assemble a report identifying the specific problems facing judicial-related issues.
Dr Reissner emphasised the importance of judicial independence following the 2011 Revolution, saying it was one of the most important conditions of democracy. “We were fascinated with the Revolution in Egypt when it erupted back in 2011.” But now, he said, it is obvious that some things did not go in the right direction.
The IAJ is an apolitical, international organisation the main aim of which is to safeguard the independence of the judiciary. “Independence is an essential requirement of the judicial function, guaranteeing human rights and freedom,” reads IAJ’s mission statement.
For their part, Egyptian judges insisted they would defend the independence of the judiciary at all costs. Participating in the conference were hundreds of judges, among whom were the constitutional expert Ibrahim Darwish and Egypt’s first female judge Tahani al-Gibali, as well as political figures and activists.
Judge Ahmed Zind pointed out that the attack against the judiciary did not target the judiciary alone, but targeted Egypt in its entirety, a point also strongly made by judge Yehia al-Gamal.
A video documentary screened during the conference showed the Islamist leader Assem Abdel-Maged inciting against the judiciary, and urging the public to besiege them in their homes. “This is the era of freedom and independence we are living through,” Judge Zind commented.
31 May 2013
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