Wednesday, April 26, 2006

On the Eve of the Hearing

The incredible Wael Abbas has captured on video security forces' disbanding of the peaceful vigil in support of judges maintained by Kifaya, al-Ghad, Freedom Now, and allied civil society groups. Amid screams, sobs, and cries of "Down with Hosni Mubarak," "Down with Habib al-Adli," riot police cornered protestors as plainclothed agents removed them one by one. In a final, eerie scene, police peeled off the huge Egyptian flag that demonstrators had strung up to frame their vigil.

Among those arrested today are Kamal Khalil, journalists Ibrahim al-Sahari and Saher Gad, and blogger Malek Mostafa. These and more are in addition to the 12 protestors arrested early Monday morning and currently held in police custody for 15 days on the following charges: assembly, assaulting public functionaries, disseminating allegations that disturb public order, amd obstructing a street without permission. These are the actual charges.

Power was abruptly cut off and then eventually restored to Nadi al-Quda today, where judges are energetically planning for today's decisive events. A defense committee comprising 24 judges and headed by justice Hossam al-Ghiryani is preparing its legal arguments for the disciplinary hearing of justices Bastawisy and Mekky, due to begin at 10 in the morning. Afterwards, the Judges Club will convene an extra-ordinary general assembly.

The square of downtown bordered by Abdel Khaleq Tharwat, 26th July, Ramsis, and Champollion streets, home to the Bar Association, Press Syndicate, Judges' Club, and the High Court complex, is now clogged with the trucks and personnel of the Central Security Forces. “Freedom Square,” as it’s fittingly dubbed, looks to be under siege, in an attempt by security forces to obstruct the medley of civil society protests planned for today, and importantly, to dampen turnout at the general assembly. Outrage is at an all-time high after the unprecedented beating of a judge by State Security and police agents on Monday. Judge Mahmoud Abdel Latif Hamza, president of the North Cairo Primary Court, was savagely cursed and beaten while taking photos on his mobile phone of security forces' first disbanding of civil society groups' vigil. The raid made sure to pilfer the huge signs with reformist judges' photos.

The powers-that-be are intensely perturbed by the outpouring of popular support for the judges. For the past week, the Club has welcomed an unceasing flow of supportive delegations from all over the country. Coptic dignitaries, university professors, members of parliament, the press syndicate board, and countless other citizens have walked through the Club's elegant, wrought-iron gates to express their solidarity and admiration. A young judge, overcome by emotion, tells of the endless platters of delicious, home-cooked, and artfully arranged food (and fresh-squeezed juice and desserts!), carefully packed and delivered to the Club, courtesy of dozens of anonymous Egyptian women. “I’ve grown plump,” he chuckles.

Mystery surrounds the outcome of an eleventh-hour negotiation manoeuvre by the regime. Presidential emissary Adli Hussein, a former judge and now governor of Qalyoubiyya, was dispatched to meet with the Club’s board on Sunday evening, reportedly to arrive at a truce of sorts. Yet only innuendo and rumour remain in the wake of his visit. On Monday, Hosni Mubarak was forced to publicly address the crisis with judges. In an interview with al-Gomhoriyya, he said that this was “a dispute among judges, specifically between the Judges Club and the Supreme Judicial Council, neither the government nor the state has anything at all to do with it.”

And so begins another chapter in the tale of the president, the judges, and the public.

*Hosam Gharbeia, "Hearing" (2001)