Judges’ Club protests proposed constitutional amendment
CAIRO: Egyptian judges have announced their decision to abstain from their task as election supervisors if the government refuses to grant them unrestricted oversight of the election process.
Nevertheless, the decision is clearly provisional, constituting more of threats, as some reports have chosen to put it, one provoked by a government-proposed constitution amendment that is widely seen as stifling judicial authority. It is also tied to the People’s Assembly’s, the upper house of parliament’s, final decision on whether to pass the controversial amendment.
The government has recently proposed an amendment to article 88, which outlines judicial supervision over ballot stations. In chapter five of the constitution, the abovementioned article states that “the law shall determine the conditions which members of the [People’s] Assembly must fulfill as well as the rules of election and referendum, while the ballot shall be conducted under the supervision of the members of a judiciary organ.
The proposal, however, clearly undercuts the judges’ authority and gives a still-unnamed “independent non-judicial committee the right to supervise elections. This still-to-be-formed committee, however, should theoretically include representatives of the judiciary but will not be exclusive to the judges, according to initial reports on the proposal.
The government will be in charge of the appointment of committee members; another notion that is causing unrest among political analysts and concerned groups. The People’s Assembly has not specified appointment criteria for the committee, raising speculations about the regulations that govern the selection process and whether this selection will conform to ethical standards.
“Hypothetically, the committee should include well-respected and objective figures, whose integrity is undoubted, Nasser Amin, law expert and head of the Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary, tells The Daily Star Egypt. “The proposed law did not specify the nature [of the selection process] since it is the [People’s] Assembly’s role to handle the selection by recommending names.
In theory, the amendment should be considered a positive step forward toward reform, since it aims to include different civil and independent forces in Egypt’s much-criticized election process. “The reality, however, is different, comments Amin, who said he believes the real purpose of the law is to restrain the authority of judges, especially after they made a stand against corruption in last year’s presidential elections.
In last year’s elections, two judges, Mahmoud Mekki and Hisham Al-Bastawisy, accused the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) of thuggery and deemed the party responsible for the violence that marred the process. The judges were given disciplinary hearings and were accused of leaking information to the press as they were supervising the presidential ballots.
The judges received an almost unprecedented level of support from many political forces and civil society members, sending a shockwave through Egypt’s political arena, where opposition forces used the opportunity to rally for more freedom and independence for the judicial system.
The repercussions of such an opposition from the side of judicial entities were “overwhelming, says Amin. “That’s why there is a belief that this [proposed amendment] might very well be designed to indirectly deny the judges [the right] to oversee elections.
“There is also an inherent fear that the government will appoint biased members in this [recommended] committee, says Amin. “The choice of the judges included is also questionable. Moreover, the government could appoint NDP members. It is unethical but legally nothing could prevent them.
The amendment proposal was immediately hailed by some upper house members affiliated with the NDP, who told the press that they are willing to back it. According to Al-Wafd party newspaper, some NDP members have proposed that any judicial supervision, even if limited, should be restricted to “general constituencies.
The proposal, on the other hand, spurred angry reactions from the judges, primarily the Judges Club, who threatened to boycott the upcoming localities elections if the People’s Assembly passes the law.
Zakariyya Abdel-Aziz, head of the Judges Club, told the press that he personally protested the law and that he informed Fathi Sorour, People’s Assembly head, of both his objection and the club’s decision to boycott the upcoming local elections.
In effect, refraining from election supervision could easily backfire on the people, especially if NDP members dominate the elections unsupervised. However, “the judges are using this as a tool to pressure [both] the government, and the parliament, says Amin.
Muslim Brotherhood upper house members, who constitute the largest opposition bloc in parliament, have vehemently opposed the amendment as well. Hamdi Hassan, the bloc’s spokesman, told the press that the Brotherhood considered the move a “conspiracy against the judicial system.