Sixty-nine-year-old judge Yehia Dakroury has spent 41 years working in the State Council, the site of Egypt’s administrative justice. He has served as head of the Court of Administrative Justice and the council’s deputy head.
He was also the State Council’s sole nominee for the position of chairman, a nomination overlooked by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi who, it was announced on July 19, selected judge Ahmed Aboul Azm, the former head of the council’s legislative committee, instead.
The council’s decision to propose Dakroury alone for the post is political. The chief judicial appointments law, passed in April, replaced the long-standing customary principle of appointment by seniority within Egypt’s judiciary, stipulating instead that the president will select new chairmen from among three nominees proposed by each body. The law was widely criticized for granting the president sweeping powers to appoint the heads of Egypt’s judiciary.
But the State Council did not comply with the new law, proposing only one candidate, Darkoury, instead of three. Sisi’s decision effectively excludes the judge that was widely expected to assume the chairmanship.
Sources close to Darkoury tell Mada Masr that he is preparing to file a complaint with the office of the presidency regarding Wednesday’s decision, ahead of submitting a lawsuit at the Supreme Administrative Court.
In November 2012, Dakroury and his family took to Tahrir Square to protest a constitutional declaration issued by former President Mohamed Morsi giving him exceptional powers, such as the right to issue irrevocable laws. At the time, Dakroury said the declaration was “a flagrant interference with Egypt’s judicial authority and the work of the judiciary, which transgresses the principle of separation of authorities and puts the president above the law.”
His contentious nomination for State Council leadership this year could be seen as the most recent step on this same continuum, which has seen him present a series of judicial challenges to the executive authority, spanning several regimes.
Most recently, on June 21, 2016, Dakroury issued a ruling through the Court of Administrative Justice (CAJ) claiming that in signing the Tiran and Sanafir agreement the president had violated the Constitution. The deal, signed in April 2016, redraws Egypt’s maritime borders and cedes the Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.
“My conscience is clear, let them do what they want.”
“Are you not afraid the president may refuse your appointment as chair of the State Council?” a judge close to Dakroury, who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity, asked him. “My conscience is clear, let them do what they want,” Dakroury responded.
Dakroury’s ruling upset what had initially seemed to be a done deal between Egypt and Saudi, a deal which went quickly south when it was met with his decision and widespread popular disapproval. But this chapter may now be closed after Sisi ratified the maritime border deal on June 24, only a few days after Parliament approved it with a majority.
Around the same time the CAJ, presided over by Dakroury, also cancelled a decision made by a committee tasked with investigating the funds of Muslim Brotherhood members. The committee decided to freeze the assets of several alleged members, including prominent football player Mohamed Abu Treika and Morsi’s presidential adviser Pakinam al-Sharkawy, among others. The freeze was part of a broader government crackdown on the Brotherhood and its affiliates in the aftermath of former Islamist President Morsi’s ouster in July 2013.
In May of last year, Dakroury’s court similarly ordered that a travel ban imposed on journalist Abdel Halim Qandil, accused of insulting the judiciary, be lifted. The court order stated: “Preventing the claimant from travel encroaches on his constitutional rights granted by the Constitution, including his freedom to travel.”
Yet another similar ruling was made in October 2015, when the CAJ ordered the cancellation of an Interior Ministry decree banning Quran reciter Mohamed Gebril from travel, indicating that the decree “has been implemented without a judicial order, which constitutes a violation of one of the fundamental public rights and freedoms.”
In March 2015, under Dakroury’s chairmanship, the CAJ annulled a call for parliamentary elections in line with a Supreme Constitutional Court decision a few days earlier, which rendered unconstitutional Article 3 of the recently passed constituency division law regarding the demarcation of electoral districts.
The elections were delayed as a result, despite the government’s vehement desire to see them take place. At the time, the president saw a government friendly Parliament as a necessity in order to ensure the legitimacy of his acts.
In November 2014, Dakroury reversed the Cabinet’s decision to seize copies of the movie Halawet Rouh (Rouh’s beauty) and ban it from screening in Egyptian cinemas, after it decreed certain scenes were sexually explicit. Dakroury described the government’s interference as “a forfeit of citizens’ opinions and right to choose between watching or not watching an artistic work.”
Not all Dakroury’s rulings have impacted decision making processes in Egypt.
In November 2015, Dakroury issued a court ruling obliging the Cabinet to disclose financial settlements reached with investors who illegally acquired state-owned lands and public sector companies. Dakroury urged the government to issue the Freedom of Information Act, in accordance with the Constitution. There was no response from the government, nor was the ruling implemented.
In a similar case, Dakroury decided in January 2016 to cancel a gag order, issued by the public prosecutor in 2014, on all discussions of allegations that the presidential elections two years earlier were rigged. Through the ruling, he established a judicial principle asserting that the public prosecutor may not issue a gag order in a case under investigation by a delegated magistrate, calling this “a clear violation of the provisions of the Constitution concerning freedom of opinion and expression, the right to information and the right of the people to access information.”
The public prosecutor did not heed the cancellation of this or the other gag orders concerning allegations of election rigging.
While this may paint an image of Dakroury as a staunch advocate of freedom of expression and more broadly political, civil and social rights, a look back at some of his other rulings conveys a measure of the judge’s conservatism.
In November of last year, the court over which Dakroury presided rejected a lawsuit requesting that the families of Muslim Brotherhood leaders held in pretrial detention at Aqrab Prison be permitted visitation rights.
In January 2016, Dakroury ruled in favor of a decree issued by the head of Cairo University Gaber Nassar banning employees from wearing the niqab on campus. He said: “the right of individuals to choose their clothing is one of the personal freedoms granted by the Constitution. Administrative bodies should not impose any restrictions, and individuals are entitled to wear whatever uniform they choose. However, while accepting the freedom for individuals to choose their clothing, this freedom is not absolute and should be exercised within the limits of respect for public morality.”
The court ruling further noted that, “the clothes worn by faculty members must respect university traditions and should not prevent them from seeing students, nor prevent students from seeing them directly.”
Through the CAJ, Dakroury also rejected all lawsuits demanding the suspension of death penalties handed to defendants in the Arab Sharkas cell case, who were accused of being members of militant group Ansar Beit al-Maqdes. The ruling was announced after the defendants were executed in May 2015, and two months after the case was filed.
This prompted lawyer Sayed al-Beheiry to file a lawsuit accusing Dakroury of ignoring requests by claimants in urgent cases, after the court adjourned the case several times. Beheiry said that the head of the administrative court repeatedly referred cases to the State Commissioners Authority and demanded that administrative decisions be suspended, without adequately conveying the urgency of the matter at hand.
Dakroury claimed that the freedoms and rights granted by the Constitution are not absolute, but rather are subject to the protection of family values.
In April 2015, the CAJ ruled in favor of the Interior Ministry’s decision to prevent a Libyan citizen from entering the country because of his sexuality, a ruling that supported the ability of the ministry to expel gay foreigners.
In May of the same year, the CAJ issued a ruling obliging the government to ban porn websites.
Dakroury commented on both rulings, saying that, in his view, the freedoms and rights granted by the Constitution are not absolute, but rather are subject to the protection of family values.
In October 2011, Dakroury stated that implementing gag orders on and banning the broadcast of Mubarak regime figures’ trials “was within the rights of the court and does not contradict the role of the media.”
“I support the ban because broadcasting the trials would create parallel trials on satellite channels. At the end of the day, the judge is human, and you can deprive him of his opinion, but not his feelings. The ban on broadcasting and publishing guarantees the integrity of litigation,” he said in a press interview.
Dakroury also declared his opposition to the appointment of women within the judiciary in 2010, when he served as chairman of the State Council’s Judges Club. “A woman’s appointment as judge would require her to sit behind closed doors with two or more male judges. This is considered a private setting, and is prohibited by Islamic jurisprudence,” he said at the time.
Despite the diversity of his positions, Dakroury has frequently issued rulings in opposition to Egypt’s executive authority in the past years, which may have cost him the State Council’s chairmanship.
Translated by Lina Attalah