CAIRO: In this era of Middle Eastern politics, the Egyptian populace has responded in a flurry to last week’s decision to extend the Emergency Law, now in effect for a quarter-century.
The move, which comes some eight months after Egypt’s first ever open elections since the dethroning of the monarchy in 1952, has threatened to jeopardize reform that the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) has sought to communicate. As the applause fades from President Hosni Mubarak’s attempts at following in this regional political revolution, the nation’s judiciary branch is now demanding to know what’s in it for them.
Having long-awaited their independence, the Judges’ Club insists they see no better time than the present. Along with amendments to the country’s constitution, the judiciary says that the executive branch of government has no business interfering with matters of the courts. As with the American system of separate but equal powers, judicial insiders are hinting that three-branch independence is imperative for any progressive government.
“The executive branch is making an occupation of the other powers, says Nasser Amin, an attorney and head of the Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession. “We don’t want this. We want a respectful relationship between the three powers. It shouldn’t be an occupying relationship.
Analysts say repeated demands made by the Judges’ Club since 1991 are starting to sound more like a broken record. The years have passed, the demands of the judges are constantly refused and the executive branch is growing less obliging, Amin believes.
Moreover, disciplinary measures taken last week against 10 pro-reform judges have been highly condemned by the nation’s opposition movements. The recommendation by Justice Minister Mahmoud Aboul Leil to try the judges was based on allegations that the men accused their colleagues of vote rigging during the elections last September.
Demonstrations in support of the judges in question ended in violence as baton-wielding riot police came to blows with hundreds of protestors.
“The judges played a very important role in the discovery of violations in the elections, notes Negad Al-Borie, director of the Group for Democratic Development. “This was very clear and so now the government is getting its revenge.
“You know at the end of a bull fight when the bull is ready to fall, minutes before it does and it gets that last bit of resistance and becomes really violent, then it falls. This is what is going on, I think, says Gasser Abdel-Razek of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, noting that he believes it will take longer than a few months for the current government to succumb to pressure from the opposition.
Nearly 10 years after the judges collaboratively requested that Mubarak issue an executive order declaring the independence of the judiciary from the main executive body, the process remains as it was. To this day, the President is responsible for appointing the general prosecutor and the head of the Court of Cassation, Egypt’s highest court. Under law 47/1972, Egypt’s Justice Minister, currently Aboul Leil, has total control over the judiciary, and may interfere in their affairs at will. He is also responsible for the hiring and firing of judges, as well as their promotions, plus luring funds for the courts. “The judges movement is about what we call professional demands, adds Borie. “It’s a societal demand too but at the end of the day it’s professional demand. They cannot be good judges and do their work without their independence.
In a rare press conference held last week by the president’s elder son Gamal Mubarak, who heads the policies secretariat committee, the NDP sought to promote its accomplishments in the reform arena following last week’s violent protests and the extension of the emergency law.
“We have an agenda for reform. We are achieving things, Mubarak told reporters gathered at party headquarters. In keeping with the President’s campaign promise, the younger Mubarak added that the NDP is committed to ending the Emergency Law, but only when an anti-terrorism law has been formulated to take its place.
“The moment this happens and is approved, the state of emergency will be lifted, noted Mubarak.
“We have a lot of articles already supporting anti-terrorism, insists Borie. “In 1986 and 1998 they made a lot of amendments toward establishing legislation for terrorism issues. The government wants to put emergency law inside our legislature body. This will give a lot of authority to the police.
A number of local and international human rights groups have criticized the party’s reluctance to promote reform, particularly regarding the liberalization of free speech and protest.
I have ample evidence in other areas that prove that we are not turning back, that we are moving ahead with openness, with political reform, with debate, added Mubarak. “I am a deep believer that 2005 was a turning point in our contemporary reform process. I really believe that.