The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Baheyya and the judges

Baheyya: Egypt Analysis and Whimsy is a fantastic English-Language Egyptian blog I'm sad not to have discovered earlier. She has a caustic tongue an I'm already terrified to become its next target. I shall watch my step.

I am outside of Egypt right now (in Istanbul, the most beautiful city in the world, period) and will be for the next two weeks. But I've been following with a lot of interest the latest development on Egyptian judges demanding full independence in monitoring the elections. I think it's not only a courageous move, but also an excellent way to provide serious election monitoring by Egyptians rather than foreigners or foreign-funded organizations, which is a problem not only for the government but also for a lot of other people too. (I'm not saying NGOs such as the Ibn Khaldoun Center would be biased, but only that their findings would easily be spun as so.)

This story has had quite a lot of coverage, notably in the Financial Times and a more detailed story in Cairo, among others. But Baheyya adds a little bit of on one of the personalities leading the judges:

Importantly, elected head of the Cairo-based Judges Club Zakariyya Abdel Aziz attended the Alexandria meeting and said, "I am committed to executing all that comes out of this meeting." Judge Hossam al-Ghiryani said, "The beginning of any political reform must go through a strong independent judge. We want a truly independent judiciary through which we can protect freedoms and human rights, and the first of these rights is one's right not to have one's will falsified through rigged elections."
These brave judges had caused quite a stir several weeks ago, prompting The Supreme Council for the Judiciary to issue a statement on 12 April denying that judges were "in revolution" and affirming their "distance from working in politics." Judge Hossam al-Ghiryani in particular deserves special mention. He was the judge who issued the Cassation Court report invalidating the 2000 election results in al-Zeitoun, which is none other than Zakariya Azmi's district, and Azmi of course is Hosni Mubarak's chief of staff and point man in parliament. Needless to say, such a report was highly embarrassing to Mubarak and Azmi, and unbelievably gutsy on the part of Ghiryani. To the regime's rescue, in March 2004 the thoroughly tamed Supreme Constitutional Court issued a binding interpretation of the long-running dispute over who gets defined as a judge, with the effect of upholding Zeitoun's election results and overruling Ghiryani's verdict.

And she asks an important question:

The upcoming May meeting of the judges in Cairo promises to echo the significance of the March 1968 meeting of the Judges Club. That historic meeting of course produced the famous declaration that the 1967 war was a result of domestic repression and absence of rule of law. For their efforts, leading judges who authored and signed the statement got sacked by Nasser in the "massacre of the judiciary" (madhbahat al-qada') in August 1968. Egyptian judges are part of the regime yet have always been nettlesome wild cards. Where do they fit in the caricatured conceptions of the regime as the president and his men?

I've never thought in the past, when judges were hailed as a bastion of independence, that they were that independent from the regime, not only because of their dependence on it (notably the bureaucracy of the ministry of justice and the way promotions are handled), but rather as a part of the regime's sphere that had a larger degree of independence from its core than most. One question that comes to mind is, to what degree are the judges being opportunistic and seizing the current more open environment (created by activists completely outside the regime) to make their demands? After all, I don't remember them making such a fuss before the last elections.