The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged judges
Egypt in TV: Highlights and low points on the talk shows

Did you know letting non-rich Egyptian kids become judges could lead them to suffer from “depression and a lot of things”?

The former minister of justice, Mahfouz Saber was there to inform you. His knowledge and concern for the psychological well-being of the poor is the reason he argued that the sons (forget daughters) of trash collectors should not join the judiciary, regardless of how academically accomplished and gifted they may be.  A judge needs to grow up in an “appropriate,” “respectable” environment, and be able to cultivate the necessary “loftiness” of judges, he told Ten TV’s Ramy Radwan. Saber's remarks ignited a media debate and led to his forced resignation. 

Prime minister Ibrahim Mehlab later told to CBC host Lamis el-Hadidi that Saber’s statement was a long slip of the tongue, and that he was actually the son of a peasant, who was lucky to continue his education. Saber then came out to say that it was not a tongue slip after all and that he stood by what he said.

“(I said that) to placate the people,” Saber all but muttered to el-Mehwar’s Mohamed Sherdy. Luckily, the poor were too busy being socially immobile to pay much attention to this back-and-forth. 

OnTV’s Ibrahim Eissa found it amusing that the sad little public didn’t know that the minister of justice has no say in the appointment of judges. It is the State Council’s job, and they should be focused on the alleged attempted assassination of a judge working on MB cases -- presumably by the MB --- rather than on the overt scorn the head of the entire judiciary just poured over the population.

Saber’s statement brought out an interesting and new side to Rola Kharsa, the TV presenter who frequently criticized the MB for “mixing religion with politics.”

“If you go back to religion ,I can simply tell you: If God willed, He would have made you a single people,” Kharsa said without further explanation, prompting one to assume that Kharsa thinks God has created people different -- and unequal, given the context -- and wants to keep it this way. This is funny because this verse (which is no. 48 from chapter 5, Surah al-Maidah) has nothing to do with social class. It is about religion and how Allah wanted to create diversity in beliefs to test humanity.

But Kharsa said that even if many might agree with the minister, it is not right for a government official to speak this way, and that individuals should be judged on their merits. 


Also mixing religion with politics this week was Rotana Masirya’s Tamer Ameen, who said that since we elected president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to run the country for us while we “sit at ahwas, smoke lots of shisha, go out a lot and don’t work a lot” rather than collectively run the country ourselves, we are religiously mandated to support him according to this Hadith: “Support your brother, whether oppressor or oppressed,” meaning when he is right back him up and when he is wrong correct him, which is another form of support -- one I don’t remember Ameen preaching for former president Mohamed Morsi, who was also elected. What’s more amusing than that is that Ameen is talking religion on Rotana of all channels. (Rotana sponsors music and broadcasts movies often laden with sexual innuendo.)

Refusing to be the only official not making classist generalizations this week, Minister of Urban Development and Slum Areas Laila Iskandar came out to blame (poor) Upper Egyptians for Egypt’s informal housing problem, as opposed to the government. She later said that she, too, is from Upper Egypt and deeply cares for the people there.

While the government told the poor to dream small, ElHayah TV’s Ahmed el-Meslamani advised the government to adopt China’s Internet censorship policy, just like he thinks France will do. The French interior minister, el-Meslamani claimed -- despite knowledge that Google is not blocked in Egypt -- said that 90 percent of terrorists today were radicalized on social media, making Facebook and Twitter the new nuclear bomb. What actually happened is that the French minister visited Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and Google to ask for direct cooperation with the French government. He did not give any statistics or compare these websites to weapons of mass destruction.

Sharing el-Meslamani’s disrespect for Google, Al Kahera Wal Nas’s Amany el-Khayat aired an amazing reportage about April 6 to warn Gulf states of the imaginary spread of the once-influential student protest movement, whose leader, Ahmad Maher, is in jail.

The report starts with a series of superimposed edited logos of April 6, claiming it has branches all over the world and that it is related to “Zionist Christianity, which is heralding the nearness of the apocalypse and seeks to establish The Structure.” The leading US Republicans controlling this branch of Christianity include  George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice.They chose to name the movement after the month of April, because of Passover, the regrettable day when Jews were freed from Ancient Egyptian slavery (which explains why they are targeting Egypt now). The number 6 was chosen because it is apparently important to Jews and probably because of the 2006 film The Omen, in which the spawn of Satan had the numbers 666 as a birthmark on his head to prove he was the spawn of Satan. The bottom line is that the “6” and the “April” in April 6 links it to Judaism which links it to Free Masonry. 

Meanwhile in the world of reasonable adults, the beloved political analyst and former member of parliament Amr Hamzawy kind of sold out. Hamzawy gave Khairy Ramadan a mercilessly long interview earlier this month that was so boring, one almost missed/no longer cared about his selling out. Hamzawy was one of the few liberals to publicly say that July 3 was a coup, but that was before he made his “revisions.” He fell silent when Khairy said the following: “Amr Hamzawy is not saying now that July 3 is a coup. Amr Hamzawy admits that the president of the republic Abdel Fatah el-Sisi was democratically elected.”

 

Hamzawy is also no longer wishes to bring down the regime. He wants to reform it from the inside and he regrets his support for the law which banned former members of the Mubarak’s dissolved ruling National Democratic Party from contesting elections.

Recent weeks have seen something of a Mubarak come-back tour, with the president and his sons being covered and quoted in the media. “Who is the first one to admit to the mistakes that we lived through in the past 30 years?”  asked Mahmoud Saad. “Mubarak,” he answered. He is the one who removed his son, Gamal Mubarak, and notoriously corrupt NDP members like Ahmed Ezz and Safwat el-Sherief from power (admittedly after putting them in power in the first place). Mubarak’s only fault was letting his son and wife rule with him, said Saad (who also at one point asked someone off camera if he was being polite enough about the former ruling family). So what is the point of this walk down Saad’s edited memory lane? It is to say that the wife and son did a poor job and that el-Sisi now is trying to save what Mubarak couldn’t. 

The only thing stranger than Saad’s logic was Wael el-Ibrashy’s awkward recent interview with Ahmed Fouad, the last king of Egypt and the son of King Farouk, in which el-Ibrashy kept asking his docile guest to tell us in his accented Arabic how much he approves of July 3 (which is arguably in bad taste, since his father was deposed by the military too) and how grateful he is to el-Sisi for giving him a diplomatic passport that says “Former King of Egypt” under occupation.

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.

The results are not only catastrophic on a political level, in that they result in the judiciary being charged with politicization, silencing or oppressing the Muslim Brotherhood; on a material level as well this is not sustainable, as we have no means to pay back the billions incurred by arbitration. In any case, it is difficult, or rather impossible, to implement the rulings to renationalize companies that have been sold a number of times. If the official does not carry out the ruling — a ruling that cannot be executed — then he ends up in jail!! As a result, the government was forced to introduce a law to circumvent those rulings instead of litigating them, by prohibiting appeals of state contracts by third parties.

Now, we have to speak the truth. These rulings, despite their enormous impact, are few in number within the long history of Egypt’s judiciary. Its leaders were known across the Arab world as pillars of the law. They wrote the constitutions of Arab countries, neighboring nations such as Turkey, and others. The men of the Egyptian judiciary stood firmly in the way of attempts at tyranny and domination that spanned decades, most recently during the era of the Muslim Brotherhood. Thus it is not shameful or wrong for them to pause to reflect if they sense the danger that threatens the state as a result of these rulings. They are part of a community that wants to move forward and evolve, not decline.

On the other hand, we have to find solutions to the horde of issues and poor conditions under which judges operate. We must amend the laws and toughen punishments for anyone who submits a malicious complaint and wastes the time of the prosecution and judicial bodies. The guaranteed right to litigation must be paralleled by proper exercise of this right so as not to squander time that we do not have.

President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi pledged not to interfere in judicial affairs and he acknowledges this as an important principle at the beginning of his rule. However, this does not mean that those within the judiciary should not do some reflection. We want the judiciary to remain lofty and not be taken advantage of by the enemies lying in ambush for us on all sides.

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.

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.