Egypt judges in showdown with Morsi over sweeping powers

By AFP
Published: November 25, 2012

Ahmed al-Zind, head of Egypt's Judges Club, speaks during a meeting of judges at the club in Cairo. PHOTO: REUTERS

CAIRO: Defiant Egyptian judges hit back at President Mohamed Morsi on Saturday, demanding he reverse a decree giving him sweeping powers that put him beyond judicial oversight and calling for a nationwide strike.

Egypt’s Judges Club, a body that represents judges throughout the country, called for “the suspension of work in all courts and prosecution administrations,” after several hours of emergency talks in response to what they called Morsi’s “ferocious attack on Egyptian justice.”

As the judges met, civil groups led former UN nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei, and former presidential candidates Hamdeen Sabbahi, Amr Mussa and Abdelmoneim Abul Futuh, said there could be no dialogue with Morsi until he rescinded the decree.

“We refuse any dialogue with the president until he cancels the constitutional declaration,” according to a joint statement read out at a news conference.

Earlier, protesters tried to storm the High Court where the judges were meeting but were dispersed when police fired tear gas. Just a few streets away, anti-riot police had fired tear gas to disperse anti-Morsi protesters camped out in Cairo’s Tahrir Square as Western governments voiced growing concern over the political crisis.

Several judicial bodies have condemned Morsi’s decree, with the Supreme Judicial Council, denouncing it as “an unprecedented attack on the independence of the judiciary and its rulings.” Earlier, the Judges Club of Alexandria announced a strike in the provinces of Alexandria and Beheira and said they “will accept nothing less than the cancellation of (Morsi’s decree),” which violates the principle of separation of powers, club chief Mohammed Ezzat al-Agwa said.

The president already held both and executive and legislative powers, and his Thursday decree puts him beyond judicial oversight until a new constitution has been ratified in a referendum. The decree also means that the panel drawing up a new constitution can no longer be touched and gives it a two-month extension until February to complete its work.

The measures are valid only until the new charter is adopted, and supporters argue they will hasten what has been a turbulent and seemingly endless transition to democracy.

But in Cairo, a statement by around 20 “independent judges” said that while some of the decisions taken by the president were a response to popular demands, they were issued “at the expense of freedom and democracy.”

Morsi has ordered the reopening of investigations into the deaths of some 850 protesters during the 2011 uprising, and hundreds more since. New prosecutor general Talaat Ibrahim Abdallah said new “revolutionary courts” would be set up and could see former president Hosni Mubarak, his sons and his top security chiefs retried “should there be new evidence.”

Mubarak and his interior minister were sentenced to life over the killing of protesters in last year’s popular uprising against him, but six security chiefs were acquitted in the same case sparking nationwide outrage.

In an address to supporters outside the presidential palace on Friday, Morsi had insisted Egypt remained on the path to “freedom and democracy”, despite his move to undercut the judiciary.

Rallies by Morsi supporters, foes

A hard core of opposition activists spent the night in Tahrir Square — epicentre of the anti-Mubarak uprising — where they erected some 30 tents, an AFP correspondent reported.

When others attempted to join them in the morning, police fired volleys of tear gas and forced them to retreat into surrounding streets. The mainly secular liberals say they are determined to keep up the momentum of protests against Morsi’s decree and have called a new mass protest in Tahrir for Tuesday.

The Muslim Brotherhood called on its own supporters to take to the streets in Abdeen Square, just streets away from Tahrir, to show their support for Morsi.

“Egypt is at the start of a new revolution because it was never our intention to replace one dictator with another,” activist Mohammed al-Gamal told AFP, showing his broken spectacles and hand in a plaster cast than he said were the result of police action.

Washington, which on Wednesday voiced fulsome praise for Morsi’s role in brokering a truce between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers to end eight days of deadly violence, led international criticism of the president’s move. But a spokesman for the Freedom and Justice Party, headed by Morsi before his election, said the president’s decree was necessary to cut short the turbulent transition.

“We need stability,” said Murad Ali. “That’s not going to happen if we go back again to allowing the judges, who have personal reasons, to dissolve the constituent assembly in order to prolong the transitional phase.”

Reader Comments (4)

  • Nikos Retsos
    Nov 25, 2012 - 8:55PM

    Mr. Morsi had to issue his degree to prevent Mubarak-appointed judges from running the country from the judicial benches, with intent to frustrate the revolution’s elected leaders.

    There is no case in human history in which a revolution failed to wipe-out completely the old corrupt regime, and the judiciary of that regime dictated what the elected by the revolution leaders can do, or cannot do! Can judges appointed by Muammar Gaddafi tell the newly elected parliament in Libya what they can, or cannot do? Of course not, because Libyan powefull militia’s still hold supreme power, and they would raid their offices and beat and kick them out! But Egyptian judges dare to do that in Egypt, because they are lackeys of the former Mubarak regime – according to other judges who support Mr. Morsi. (Ahram Online, November 24, 2012),

    President Morsi’s degree was, therefore, issued to cut the blocking by former Mubarak appointed judges of any decision issued by his government. There is no doubt that Mubarak’s judges are not there to serve the revolution of the Egyptian people. They are there to frustrate Mr. Morsi, and create discord that might help the revival and return to power of the old corrupt Mubarak party that appointed them! Nikos Retsos, retired professorRecommend

  • Umer
    Nov 26, 2012 - 4:54AM

    Mr. Morsi had to issue his degree to prevent Mubarak-appointed judges from running the country from the judicial benches

    Iftikhar Chauhdhary was also appointed by a dictator, Musharraf. This is no reason or justification to unconstitutionally over thrown judicial system just because one wants to become a Pharaoh. Also it’s not just the judiciary who are complaining but human rights organisation who once opposed Mubarak’s tyranny are also protesting on Mursi’s tyranny. This is just a case of one tyrant using the other tyrant as excuse to strengthen his tyranny. Mursi is no different than Mubarak.

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  • Laughable
    Nov 26, 2012 - 11:30AM

    Few days ago this country was taking a stance aginst Israel……Now it’s over its knees.

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  • Deendayal M.Lulla
    Nov 26, 2012 - 11:38AM

    It is a global pattern – judges versus politicians. The litigants are forgotten. Judges also have sweeping powers,with no accountabiliy. Will a judge welcome a defiant litigant? The hapless litigant will be dangled the threat of contempt of court. The judges should first talk of accountability. Is a litigant supposed to believe blindly that justice will be done to him? Can a litigant put his views on the judgements,and that too on courts’ websites? The judiciary needs reforms globally. Has anybody talked of rights of litigants? Just blaming Morsi is not sufficient – the judges should look within,at their sweeping powers. Without accountability,the system of judiciary is ineffective and inefficient. Necessary reforms must be there to make the institution of judiciary , an effective one. Othwerwise,it is an institution of kings. The need of the hour is to empower the Egyptian public,and everybody including the judges should focus their attention on this issue.

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