CAIRO: Parliament approved changes in judiciary laws, meeting some key demands of Egypt s pro-democracy movement though reformers said Tuesday it did not go far enough to guarantee judges independence from the government s control.
The bill was passed Monday night after months of debate, sharpened by the arrests of hundreds of people during protests in April and May in support of pro-reform judges.
Democracy advocates have hoped that the new law would weaken what they call the hold of President Hosni Mubarak s government over the courts through appointments, rewards and the powers of the Justice Ministry.
The law, passed Monday night, met one goal of reformers by giving the judiciary a separate budget as of 2008, taking its finances out of the control of the Justice Ministry, which reformers said rewarded pro-government judges.
Without doubt, there have been issues that we ve demanded and have been achieved, we can t argue about that, said Zakaria Abdel-Aziz, the head of Judges Club, a union dominated by reformers.
He told Al-Arabiya television that reformers had wanted an end to giving judges temporary government appointments, seen as another rewards system.
A pro-reform judicial watchdog group, the Arab Center for Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession, said the new law contained some positive points but still lacked other points to allow it to correspond to the international criteria related to the independence of the judiciary.
The ruling National Democratic Party used its overwhelming majority in the 454-seat parliament to pass the law Monday over objections from the Muslim Brotherhood, which forms the largest opposition bloc, with 88 deputies. The upper house of parliament, which is also dominated by the ruling National Democratic Party, passed the bill last week, and it must now be approved by Mubarak.
The Brotherhood said the bill proves the executive power s wish to have tight control over the judicial power.
The block considers this as a clear retreat and a dangerous setback for the claims of reform that the government has been boasting day and night, the Brotherhood statement said.
Pro-reform judges have moved to the forefront of Egypt s democracy movement. When two judges went public with claims of fraud during last year s parliament election, they became heroes to reformists, who say Mubarak, a top U.S. ally, has backed off promises of change.
The two whistleblower judges, Hesham El Bastawisy and Mahmoud Mekki, were put before a disciplinary panel, prompting a series of protests in April and May that were put down by security forces who beat and arrested hundreds of Brotherhood members and secular activists. El Bastawisy was reprimanded, while Mekki was acquitted by the panel.