Judges’ plight in Egypt

The judiciary and the executive are the two major pillars of the democratic system, and these are supplementary and complementary to each other. However, the strange thing in Egypt is that they are on a collision course. Who are the losers, other than the people themselves?

Dear readers, that conflict is reflected in the latest instance of the government stalling a meeting between a panel of judges and members of an international human rights panel, the Human Rights Watch. It raises fresh questions as to how keen is the government on implementing its promises of reforms. The judges are seeking no more than judicial independence, which is an integral part of the reforms that the government is promising to implement.

Feelings are that the judges in Egypt are paying a price either for speaking the truth or for their social activism-an activism that sees them as the main voice against perceived governmental injustices and malpractices. On the one hand, judges are campaigning for more judicial independence, and on the other they are raising issues that are often embarrassing to the government. All of this, however, are not valid reasons for thwarting a meeting between judges and a reputed rights panel members.

Judges in Egypt play a major social role; so much so, many see them — and not the opposition — as the real worry for the government. Judges were the ones who raised their powerful voice against irregularities in the presidential and parliamentary elections held there last year. Under the law, judges do supervise the elections. In reality, judges say, they were not being able to be in control of the situation. This is a serious allegation. In fact, reform-minded judges had, some months ago, earned more governmental wrath as they said some of their colleagues colluded with the ruling side and the security forces in rigging the votes.  Such allegations had its impact. Many saw a link between the allegations and the overwhelming majority the ruling side had won in the elections.

The point to note is, where is the promise of reforms heading to in Egypt? It is one thing to face the reality, and quite another to accuse the rights panel of being agents of the Zionists, as the state-run media has done. No one has heard such accusations against the Human Rights Watch in the past. The judges are both intelligent and nationalists to the core, and it is safe to assume that they will be disinclined to meet someone with any ulterior motives.

On their part, the rights panel members say their interest is to help promote the independence of the judiciary, something that is a primary requirement for protection of human rights worldwide. Without a free judiciary, how can rights be ensured for people? Can a captive judiciary perform its role of meting out justice to the people? The rights panel has noted that “judges have been the most important check on government misconduct in Egypt” and hence their plan to support and encourage them.

Egypt’s promised reforms need be hastened. The electoral reforms were a welcome step forward. That saw for the first time multi-candidate, multi-party elections for the post of president, doing away with the system of referendum involving only one candidate. The parliamentary elections that followed were more transparent this time than had been in the past. But, Egypt must move on.

Dear readers, judicial reforms, leading to the establishment of a truly independent judiciary, are a matter of urgency for Egypt. An independent judiciary is the best guarantee for a fair social order; and it is a pre-requisite, among other things, for the creation of a proper investment climate. It is time the government created conditions for better cooperation between it and the judiciary for the benefit of the country.

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