The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

A question for Baheyya

I have a question for our favorite judicial expert and impassioned blogger Baheyya, who warns in her latest post not to turn judges into heroes and "saddle them with the hopes of a nation." Fair enough, the judges are not about to stage a coup as the political scientist Hassan Nafaa recently seemed to suggest in a recent Al Arabi column when he compared the Judges' Club in 2006 to the Officers' Club in 1952. But when she says:

It goes without saying that this is a protracted battle that has been ongoing for decades and will continue for several more. But the battle is not forwarded by treating judges as infallible Olympian beings who will rid the country of all that ails it. It does no good to sensationalise their plight and trip over ourselves coining terms such as “rebel judges” and a “judicial intifada” and all the other breathless assertions. As a citizen, I instinctively love the now-famous slogan “Judges, judges, deliver us from the tyrants!” that is a staple at every solidarity demonstration. But as a professional and an analyst, I cannot succumb to the fantasy that judges are the deus ex machina that will realise democracy, restore justice, and make life wonderful. Judges are already grappling with tremendous stresses. It’s highly unfair to saddle them with the hopes of a nation.
I don't see the problem with the term "rebel judges." The judges are not unanimous in protesting their situation, just as they were not unanimous in condemning the fraud in the elections. There are clearly judges who are more willing to contest the authorities than others. The "rebels" might make the majority of the Judges' Club if we are to go with the election results that brought Zakariya Abdel Aziz to power, or a lot less than that if we go with the current estimates (guesses?) that between 1,500 and 2,500 are supporting the Club's campaign for Bastawissi and Mekki and the wider one for new judicial independence legislation. Are there not, in fact, pro-regime judges and "rebel" ones, in the sense that they are rebelling against a system? They may have been disgruntled for a long time and raised this issue before, but it seems that the current "rebellion" takes their complaints to a whole new level. The same judges that worked within the system for a long time are now opportunistically (I don't mean that in a bad way) taking advantage of changed political conditions to make their demands. So "rebel" is not that inappropriate.

I didn't attend the meeting of the Club that immediately followed the verdict on B&M, but a friend who did told me that they seemed intent of continuing their demands from what they said. (He also spoke of an Islamist tinge to senior judges' speeches, but that may have been a way to thank the remarkable support Muslim Brotherhood MPs gave the Club. The MPs stayed a few minutes to congratulate the judges and then left, wisely, as there are enough accusations in the state press that the MB are behind the Judges' crisis as it is -- Al Ahram editor Osama Saraya said as much last week, also blaming the MB for sectarian violence and other ills.) But the speculation in the press and among activists that the Judges may now stand down their activism (end the sit-in, negotiate a judicial independence bill with the NDP, etc.) is perfectly legitimate. And as Baheyya herself points out, it is unreasonable to expect the Judges to assume the leadership of Kifaya or the wider anti-Mubarak, pro-democracy, whatever-you-want-to-call-it movement. They're campaigning for judicial independence, not regime change. Their "rebellion" ends when they get what they want, or possibly even a compromise. In other words, are the Judges' playing an all-or-nothing game? Will they insist on every single one of their demands? These are legitimate questions for the press and analysts to have. Not putting judges on a pedestal also means recognizing that they might be mostly fighting for their corporate interests.