Monday, December 19, 2005


And so it has come to pass. The ultimate election of the year has brought in dramatic results. On Friday, judges returned the “iron slate” of incumbent Zakariyya Abdel Aziz, so-called because of its tough stance on the imperative of judicial independence (I love it). Out of 4,652 valid votes, Aziz garnered 3,680, while the pro-regime Adel al-Shorbagi came away with a non-negligible 930. Unknown last-minute entrant Ihab Abdel Muttalib secured some 89 votes.

I was blessedly wrong to think that the body of judicial electors is having second thoughts about Aziz’s activism. Instead, the results show an intensely mobilised and unwavering judicial general will, ready for a new chapter of hard bargaining with the regime. Physical attacks on judges during the parliamentary elections are still fresh in everyone's mind. But let’s not brush aside the significant minority of challengers led by Shorbagi. They’re crafty and retain close ties to the powers that be. And they’ll live to fight another day. Still, I can’t resist offering my condolences to the regime’s dejected fixers. Your job just got much harder, gentlemen. Pity.

Even more remarkable than judges’ unambiguous mandate to Aziz et al is how closely watched and then heartily celebrated these elections have been. “Mabrouk!” is the cry on everyone’s lips (many thanks for all the e-mails, I’m ecstatic too). It’s as if a significant sector of the public tethered its hopes for freedom and justice to this odd electoral exercise among this most unexpected group of electors. This no doubt is one of the most intriguing and perhaps enduring outcomes of the Judges’ Club vote. As is obvious, the pro-independence faction won more than the confidence of its peers. It has also secured the lasting interest and admiration of members of the general public, for whom the once obscure names Abdel Aziz, Hisham Geneina, Ahmad Saber, and Mahmoud Mekky now evoke honour, courage, and intrepid perseverance.

Judges in this country have long been held in high esteem, but always at a certain remove. Charisma was anathema, unseemly, and downright frowned upon. Now, judges are at the centre of public politics, and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to claim that a handful have attained the stature of beloved public personalities, purveyors of a certain mystique. That continues to trouble many, and the concerns are legitimate. What does it mean that judges take on the public leadership roles usually assumed by politicians and charlatans? Why did none of the ‘clean’ contenders for parliament capture the public’s imagination in the same way that judges have? How will the regime respond to this latest of a string of setbacks thrown its way? How will Abdel Aziz and partisans maintain the momentum for a new judiciary law while fending off infiltration, demoralisation, or implosion from within? Judges thrive on wielding specialised legal knowledge, fairness, and guardianship of what’s left of the public interest. How the rough and tumble of politics will affect their prized social capital, painstakingly built over decades of dogged professional service and collective action, will be one key development to watch.

But let me not complicate the festivities with too many nagging questions. It’s time to celebrate. I’ll even drink sharbat!