Egyptian judges have taken a provisional decision to abstain from their task as election supervisors this year if the government fails to guarantee them full oversight of the process.
The tough position, taken by consensus on Friday at a four-hour meeting attended by about 3000 judges, adds to the pressure on the government and on President Hosni Mubarak, who is widely expected to seek a fifth six-year term in September.
Presidential elections in the absence of judges could violate the constitution, which requires judicial supervision.
The judges also tied their cooperation on elections to the government's response to their separate demand for a draft law on the judiciary that ensures independence from the executive.
If they get their way, it would remove one of the key obstacles to political interference in the judiciary: namely, that the minister of justice controls the budget for salaries, promotions and bonuses and that judges who don't tow the line are usually punished. In a sense, this seems to be as much as a union negotiating tactic as a call for greater independence. The other issue is how much of this will translate into individual judges actually carrying out the boycott if necessary. It's pretty clear that there are also plenty of regime-friendly judges (such as some judges who will be sitting on the electoral commission), so it'll be interesting how this plays out within the judge's association.
(This post was edited to remove a reverence to Fathi Naguib, former head of the Supreme Constitutional Court, who died in 2003. I confused him with someone else.)
Update: Read this for the whole story by someone who really knows what she's talking about.