In a dangerous escalation, at 4:30 pm yesterday, the Supreme Judicial Council lifted the immunity of four judges leading the movement for a new judiciary law and full judicial supervision of elections: Judge Hisham al-Bastawisy (above far left), Alexandria Judges Club president Mahmoud al-Khodeiri (below right), and the brothers Mahmoud and Ahmed Mekky (above center and below left).
The reason: a judge filed a complaint claiming that the four judges had wrongly accused him of complicity in rigging elections at the polling station he supervised in Mansoura during parliamentary elections. The Supreme Judicial Council lifted their immunity so that the judges can be questioned by the State Security Prosecution (Niyabat Amn al-Dawla al-Uliya).
First, this is the same maneuver used by the government to place professional associations under sequestration. The story is always the same: induce a pro-regime professional to file a phony complaint, thus providing a pretext for the government to swoop in and neutralise challengers. It should be obvious that this is the selfsame tactic also used to destroy suddenly unruly opposition parties (al-Shaab in 2000 and al-Ghad in 2005). Divide et impera.
Second, this is much more serious, since it’s a branch of state power that’s now under attack. The government has not interfered this blatantly to diminish independent judges since August 1969. The immediate cause this time is a sit-in judges are planning at their club in Alexandria this Friday. The action is to protest the Supreme Judicial Council’s utterly secretive and high-handed posture on the draft law on the judiciary. The Council’s president, Fathi Khalifa, has been entirely uncollegial and less than forthcoming about a bill that judges have been fine-tuning and refining for years. Khalifa's behaviour is nothing new.
To make matters worse, news had leaked out that the Council’s draft meets none of the judges’ demands, instead deliberately codifying the executive’s will to power. Case in point: the bill reportedly raises judges’ retirement age from 68 to 72, a blatant violation of judicial majority opinion. At the December 16, 2005 Judges Club general assembly, 3,706 out of 4,732 judges voted against raising the retirement age, which is a transparent maneuver to block the promotion of younger judges and prolong the tenure of their pliant, regime-friendly elders.
The judges’ sit-in will proceed as planned, and now will surely draw more attention and perhaps even the participation of hesitant fence-sitters. The government’s recent unstudied action is likely to be perceived not simply as an elimination of individual reformist judges, but as an assault on the integrity of the judiciary.
All eyes on Bolkly, Alexandria tomorrow, as we wait and watch this dramatic turn of events.