A number of judicial authorities announced their rejection of a draft law that passed a preliminary vote earlier this week and grants the president the power to appoint the heads of Egypt’s top judicial bodies, pointing to the growing tension between legislative and judicial authorities over the proposed amendments to the law.
By allowing the president to appoint the heads of judicial bodies, the law replaces the long-standing principle of seniority in executive appointments. If it passes, the president will be tasked with selecting from a pool of three nominees fielded by each judicial body’s supreme council, chosen from among the seven most senior aides to the last-serving president.
The law was referred to the State Council for its non-binding opinion before it will return to Parliament for a final round of voting.
For its part, the State Council called for an urgent general assembly on Tuesday to discuss the bill, during which some of its members suggested the appointment of Yehia Dakroury as head of the council before the law is ratified. Dakroury is thought to be at the center of the tension, after he ruled against a state-backed agreement that transfers the sovereignty of the two Red Sea islands Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia.
The law states that in case the judicial body’s supreme council fails to present its recommendations to the president two months before the end of the term of the sitting head, the president is entitled to skip this step and directly make the appointment.
A judicial source who spoke to Mada Masr earlier this week on condition of anonymity said that the law aims to block two judges from reaching the top posts, namely Dakroury and Anas Ali Abdallah Omara. Both are at odds with the state. While Dakroury ruled against the contested maritime agreement, which prompted the largest protests witnessed under President Sisi, Omara ruled to cancel all death penalties for citizens based solely on evidence provided by national security bodies.
The source added that the hastiness with which the law was passed, half an hour after the Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee submitted it to the general assembly, reflects political motivations.
In a letter to Parliament in February, the State Council formally rejected the bill, which was proposed by the deputy of the parliamentary committee for legislative and constitutional affairs, Ahmed Helmy al-Sherif, in December. The Supreme Judicial Council and the Judges Club rejected the bill, saying that it jeopardizes the independence of the judiciary.
The Supreme Judicial Council refrained from announcing its stance until results of a meeting between members of the Judges Club, the largest representation of judges in Egypt, are disclosed. At the end of their meeting on Wednesday, the judges delegated the club’s head Mohamed Abdel Mohsen to meet with President Sisi in a bid to end the stalemate.
MP Sherif, who is a member of the government-backed Alliance to Support Egypt coalition, stood his ground despite the backlash, insisting in a phone interview on the talk show Yahdoth Fi Misr (Happening in Egypt) on Tuesday evening that Parliament maintains the ultimate right to pass legislation, pointing to the fact that the Supreme Judicial Council hasn’t yet sent an official response regarding the law. Article 185 of the constitution stipulates that judicial bodies be consulted regarding laws regulating their activities. The law requires a two-third majority to pass.
In another sign of the brewing tension between the judiciary and executive authorities, Justice Minister Hossam Abdel Rehim referred two judges – Assem Abdel Gabar and Hesham Abdel Raouf, who took part in drafting an anti-torture bill – to a disciplinary committee on Thursday. They are accused of forming an illegal organization, preparing the anti-torture legislation and pressuring the president’s office to pass it.