The Cairo Court of Appeals’ last Wednesday ruled that the law 386 0f 2012 according to which Talaat Ibrahim Abdullah was appointed Egypt’s prosecutor- general last November was null and void, and cancelled all its implications. The ruling, which implied the reinstatement of the former prosecutor-general Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud, sparked heated controversy. Word that the presidency did not intend to abide by the Court of Appeal’s ruling gave rise to strong pubic protests in Cairo and other Egyptian towns on Friday. Wide public protest erupted calling for the implementation of the court ruling which the government later said it would contest before the Court of Cassation, Egypt’s highest court.
Defying the judiciary
Mr Mahmoud was dismissed by President Mohamed Mursi last November, and the hand-picked Mr Abdullah installed in his place.
Egypt was then highly polarised between the Islamists—to whom President Mursi belonged—and the increasingly strong seculars who rejected religious rule. In a move that has been widely seen as intended to secure Islamist objectives, Mr Mursi issued then a constitutional declaration that granted him sweeping powers and made his decisions immune to judicial review, curtailed the power of the judiciary, and dismissed Mr Mahmoud whom he then replaced with Mr Abdullah.
The move came in defiance to the Egyptian legal system under which the prosecutor-general can only be dismissed by judicial decree, not by the president, and a new prosecutor-general can only be appointed by judicial selection not by the president.
In December, amid outrage over his appointment, Mr Abdullah made and then retracted an offer to resign.
Last Thursday, the day following the recent court ruling the Egyptian Journalists’ Syndicate board decided to boycott dealing with the office of Mr Abdullah.
The move caps the grievances the Syndicate holds against Mr Abdullah, the most recent among which has been the summoning of the Syndicate board deputy chairman Gamal Fahmy to appear in front of the Court of Appeals on claims of “publishing false news that threaten national security”. Mr Fahmy refused to appear before the court. He is accused of publishing the intentional killing of the 33-year-old journalist al-Husseini Abu-Deif during clashes outside of Cairo’s presidential palace in December 2012.
“Reports regarding journalists will be presented to the prosecution and not to the prosecutor-general’s office,” a Syndicate statement read.
Tahany al-Gebali, former deputy to the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court, said the ruling upheld the sovereignty of law, and restored to the Egyptian judiciary its dignity. It was a potent response, she said, by the judicial authority to the executive authority represented by the president who, in his appointment of Mr Abdullah as prosecutor-general, had thrown the law to the wind.
“The ruling was no surprise; it was expected,” said Mahmoud Kamal, the spokesperson of the development and advancement youth movement. “It mirrors the independence and objectivity of the judiciary. The coming days may witness rulings that might declare the last parliamentary elections illegal because of irregular voter registers, and dissolve the Muslim Brotherhood group (MB) on grounds of its illegality.
Mr Kamal called on the armed forces to be ready to defend the judiciary in case such rulings are issued since, in that event, the MB are expected to react violently.
The MB, predictably, holds a different opinion regarding the recent court ruling. The lawyer representing the group, Abdel-Moneim Abdel-Maqsoud, said that reinstating Mr Mahmoud would give rise to political instability, and “wipe out all the achievements of the last period”.
Mr Maqsoud branded the recent court ruling as illegal “because it contradicts constitutional texts the Egyptian people voted for”. He warned against mixing politics and justice, and said the recent ruling was not final. He insisted he fully respects the judiciary “when it is not a tool to demolish the State”.
Photos of the public protest on Friday 29 March in front of Cairo’s High Court, by Nasser Sobhy
30 March 2013