A reader who follows judicial issues in Egypt writes:
Al-Misri al-Yom has reported that Maher ‘Abd al-Wahid has been appointed to replace Mamduh Mar‘i as the chief justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court. This continues a pattern of political appointments to that position in a manner that has effectively subjugated what had been a very vigorous (if sometimes idiosyncratic) defender of constitutional rights during the 1990s.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the position of chief justice generally went to the most senior member of the Court, making it virtually a self-perpetuating body. Unsurprisingly, that made possible a degree of independence. Especially when ‘Awad al-Murr served as chief justice, the Court became a bold actor indeed.I would only add to this that Maher Abd al-Wahid has been serving as Public Prosecutor (mentioned above in its Arabic name, niyaba) for the past six years at least and has used and abused certain elements of the current Egyptian legal code, including the Emergency Law, to keep many people in "administrative detention" -- that is, infinitely renewable detention without being charged -- as well as dubious decisions (in bringing charges, etc.) in whole range of other cases. All of the big human rights cases since 2000 have this man's fingerprints over them -- the Queen Boat, Saad Eddin Ibrahim, and so on. In American terms, this is a bit like appointing John Ashcroft as head of the Supreme Court.
In order to rein in the Court, Mubarak has used his appointment power to bring in a series of chief justices who are more closely aligned with the presidency. The first such figure, Fathi Nagib, was respected as a jurist (and was especially supportive of a liberal agenda on gender issues) but was also widely (and justifiably) seen as a pro-regime figure. His successor, Mamduh Mar‘i, commanded far less respect but proved just as loyal (if not more so, with his electoral work). Some judicial figures fear that they have not seen the last of Mar‘i. While efforts to extend the retirement age to allow Mar‘i to continue as chief justice were turned back, there is nothing to prevent him from serving as minister of justice. And judicial reformers suspect that that is where he will turn up to replace the current minister who is seen as somewhat of a weak figure.
As for ‘Abd al-Wahid, the Court’s new chief justice, it is safe to say that little in his background will assure judicial reformers. He has served as head of the niyaba, which is such a critical position that the regime has never allowed it much independence. And in that position, he would not have built up the solid experience in constitutional law that some of his predecessors as chief justice had.