In Translation: Think it over, judges!

There have been several examples in the Egyptian press lately of extremely belated hand-wringing. Now Lamis Elhadidy -- a former media advisor to Hosni Mubarak, fierce supporter of President El Sisi and talk show who host who has featured many times in our Egypt in TV columns -- comes out and says it: Some of the recent judicial rulings are not very beneficial to the country. She asks judges, with all due respect, to "reflect" a little more. Given how much Elhadidy has acted as a mouthpiece for the post-June 30 regime, it's fair to assume that this is a message. We bring you this latest entry in our In Translation series as always courtesy of Industry Arabic, a great professional translation service. 

The Judges

Lamis Elhadidy, El Masry El Youm, June 30

I choose my words carefully before talking about the judiciary. It is an emotional topic, and any unconsidered approach may be understood incorrectly or expose one to accusations of insulting the judiciary, wanting to politicize the institution, or “lacking patriotism," alongside other prefabricated charges.

But honesty requires that we do not shy away from speaking the truth, nor fear blame. I hold great respect for the judiciary and its officials; I am certain of the lofty position that it has occupied throughout Egypt’s political history, and that it is one of the few institutions that stood steadfastly against attempts at encroachment from various political regimes. However, those within the judiciary themselves may need to pause in order to frankly and honestly analyze the results of recent rulings and their influence on the path of the nation as a whole.

An independent judiciary, whose independence we all defend, does not imply that the institution is separate from the nation, or that it operates on an island with no connection to what is going on around it, in terms of international repercussions, challenges, or ambushes. An independent judiciary means that the institution does not experience any form of pressure from other branches of the government, especially the executive branch, and that the judge rules from his stand justly and according to the law -- the law that was promulgated in order to administer justice, set the scales, and reform society, not handicap it.

With this in mind, the judiciary's wise and senior figures must pause and evaluate some of the most recent rulings and their influence on the nation’s path. Egypt is facing ambushes both domestically and internationally, and they must consider how—unfortunately—some of these rulings have obstructed our path, to the extent that these rulings have even been employed by enemies to fuel denunciation and intensify international hostility toward the June 30th Revolution and the new Egyptian regime. All of this comes in addition to the heavy financial losses that we have suffered.

The rulings to renationalize companies that were privatized decades ago and the resulting legal cases cost billions of dollars in international arbitration. The death sentence rulings [of hundreds of alleged Muslim Brotherhood members, tried en masse] were immediately appealed by the public prosecutor, but their impact remains ineradicable as they formed the largest concurrent batch of death sentence rulings in human history. And -- despite my absolute disapproval of Al-Jazeera’s approach and the poisonous lies that it broadcasted -- the case of the Al-Jazeera journalists is also one of the rulings that have created disastrous international consequences for Egypt. Every bit of progress that we make on the diplomatic and popular front takes place through great pains; every constitutional and electoral mandate proves that the path of June 30 is our goal. And then these rulings come along and drag us two steps backward. Then we begin the series of justifications and explanations, affirming that the judiciary is not politicized, that there are other stages of litigation, and that there is no intention to suppress opponents, silence them, or otherwise.

We have failed – and I mean that we have all failed -- to explain the grounds of these rulings or the reasons behind them sufficiently to convince the world of their logic. It appeared to the world as though we have a unique judicial system with no relation to the global system, which is no longer acceptable internationally. Egypt cannot live divorced from international law.

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From Minya

Imma Vitelli went to Minya and -- unable to speak to the judge who recently handed out a death sentence to 528 men in the murder of one police officer -- tracked down the young public prosecutor who put together the case. He showed her cell phone footage he had used as evidence and told her: "All 528 [accused] worked together to carry out this act of terrorism, responding to the call of Brotherhood leaders." (In Italian). 

 

Egypt's Judges Strike Back: The New Yorker

My take on the sentencing of over 500 alleged Muslim Brotherhood members to death in a single case tried in the southern town of Minya. (The same court is set to hear similar mass cases with over 900 defendants in the coming month). 

It was alarming, at the end of the largest mass sentencing in Egypt’s modern history, to see five hundred men held responsible, so expeditiously and so severely, for one murder, when there have been no convictions—in fact, there has not been a criminal investigation—related to the deaths of the twelve hundred civilians killed in August. More than eight hundred protesters died during the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak, in 2011; not a single police officer has been convicted for their killings. (Mubarak himself was convicted only of failing to prevent their deaths, and has won the right to a retrial on that charge.) Although cases against senior officials of the Mubarak regime have meandered through postponements and appeals for years now, the verdict in Minya was handed down after two brief sessions. According to Egyptian human-rights organizations that monitored the proceedings, “Witnesses were not called, evidence was not presented in court, and the accused were unable to defend themselves.”

 

It is unlikely that the sentence will be carried out. A majority of the men found guilty were sentenced in absentia; the defendants who were in custody, and their lawyers, were not even present when the verdict was delivered. If the conviction is not overturned on appeal, Egypt’s Grand Mufti, a government-appointed cleric, must ratify the decision to put the prisoners to death. But his assent does not guarantee that the penalty will be imposed: during the nineteen-nineties, when the state waged a brutal campaign against Islamist militants, some were held for years in prison, with death sentences hanging over their heads, as a kind of leverage. The judgment in Minya may be a similar deadly warning, but it represents something even more significant: it is a sign of how deeply Egypt’s judiciary has been compromised by the government’s onslaught against the Brotherhood.

Read the rest here

In Latitude: Kritarchy in Cairo

My latest piece for the IHT's blog Latitude is up. It deals with the, in my view, scandalous behavior of Egyptian judges in the last few weeks and their increased politicization. I am particular incensed at the lack of mea culpa from the judiciary, for years a good part of the problem of the Mubarak era. Just think how many judges sentenced people to years of prison in political cases. And it appears that their idea of judicial independence is that judges should entirely decide how to administer themselves without any oversight. It smacks of the corporatist thinking that plagues Egypt, and lies at the core of the problems of reforming the judiciary, the police and other state institutions. The judges, for now, appear to be more part of the problem than the solution.

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Egypt's Legal News of the Day

A friend who prefers to remain anonymous writes in about the Egyptian judiciary, which has been getting some flak lately:

In a landmark ruling today, a Cairo appeals court struck down air.  “We can find no legal basis in any Egyptian legal text for air. This lack of legality extends to various human activities connected with air, including breathing, use of vacuum cleaners, and parliamentary debates,” the three-judge panel stated in a written ruling. (The judges were unable to deliver the opinion orally because they were all holding their breath).  

The court deferred to a September session consideration of challenges lodged against windows, emoticons, ful for any meal other than breakfast, and Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

In other Egyptian legal news, the country’s Supreme Constitutional Court issued what legal observers have already termed a “continuous loop” judgment. The Court found itself unconstitutional. However, it argued, since it had no constitutional authority, its own ruling was invalid.  And if the Court’s finding of its own unconstitutionality had no constitutional standing, the Court actually did have full constitutional authority after all. And it would use that constitutional authority to find itself unconstitutional.  But then, since it had no constitutional authority, its own ruling was invalid.

The decision continued for 4000 pages before a printer jam prevented completion of the ruling.

Meanwhile, the parliament escalated its conflict with the judiciary following yesterday’s State Council ruling that Britain’s severance of Egypt from the Ottoman Empire in 1914 was legally invalid because it had been issued in English, which is not an official language. The Court had ordered that all Egyptian state institutions be disbanded as a result. By an overwhelming vote, parliamentarians reacted by repealing the original Ottoman conquest of Egypt, thus hoping to remove the court’s jurisdiction over Britain’s 1914 decision.  

The SCAF has also reacted to the State Council decision, posting on its Facebook page a statement declaring that the first existing Egyptian legal document, the Narmur palate, clearly gives ultimate political authority to the military and that all subsequent constitutional documents draw their authority from, and thus cannot contradict, that text.  

A Freedom and Justice deputy promptly filed suit in an administrative court to strike down the Narmur Palate as belonging to the gahiliyya.

More news tomorrow.