Monday, March 06, 2006

The Plot Thickens

I say, I never thought executive-judicial relations could be so…what’s the word…ah yes, riveting. For the pedant at heart, nothing could be more absorbing than the tussles within Egypt's remarkable judiciary, with all their intricate twists and turns, their historical resonance, the plethora of detail, and the fascinating play of manoeuvre and counter-manoeuvre. Normal people are really quite the poorer for spurning all this wealth of delightful legal arcana. Absolutely delightful, I say.

You see, it appears that our august but positively curmudgeonly Mr Fathi Khalifa has struck again. Yesterday, he referred two more senior judges for interrogation. Alexandrian Cassation Court vice presidents Yahya Galal (top right) and Assem Abdel Gabbar (top left) allegedly made remarks to the media “disparaging” the Supreme Judicial Council and harming the “dignity of the judiciary,” thundered Khalifa (tut tut). It would appear that Mr Khalifa has grown tired of and perhaps a tad threatened by judges’ outspoken remarks about violence against both them and voters during elections, and their activism for a new law to guarantee judicial independence. In Mr Khalifa’s world, you see, judges must remain forever obedient and submissive to their superiors. They must above all exhibit a healthy dose of deference to the president and his appointees. To demand independence, why that is sacrilege, profanation, vile irreverence!

But note well, our indefatigable Fathi bey is not without some measure of guile. This time, perhaps chastened by the outcry at his
earlier outrage, Khalifa has not stripped the judges of their immunity so that they can be interrogated by non-judges. Instead, acting in his capacity as president of the Cassation Court (not president of the Supreme Judicial Council), he has referred them to internal interrogation by another judge as a possible prelude to meting them a warning (tanbih), as per Article 94 of the existing judiciary law. It’s an oh-so-intricate but real legal distinction. How it will be received is another matter, however. Given the extraordinary friction between the Judges Club and the SJC, fine distinctions are likely to be subsumed by the bigger picture.

And that is: the more that pro-government judges illegitimately pull rank, engage in unprovoked, unjustified, and imprudent actions, and slam the door in the face of even the possibility of negotiation, the more power and prestige accrues to the ever-growing pro-independence faction. It is extremely telling that in his most recent fit of rage, Khalifa railed against the emergent links between the Judges Club and wider civil society forces. The Club “has become a conclave for opposition to the government” and the Alexandria silent protest “has no meaning and was a group of friends who don’t represent judges.” He elaborated, “The Judges Club should not be opened to a bunch of lawyers and journalists, and anyone aggrieved by the government, and the Kifaya movement…this is an exploitation of the atmosphere of freedom to harm others, and to libel and slander senior officials reaching all the way to the president.”

Leaving both the bigger picture and the legal arcana aside for a moment, I confess to being consumed by a vexatious question. It seems as if every action Fathi bey has ever embarked on has led to precisely the opposite of what he intended. Judges’ feisty collective action today is in no small measure pushed along by Fathi bey’s modus operandi. I am worried, is he perhaps not consulting the right people? Might I suggest the lucid tracts of Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, even Clausewitz? A better strategy is long overdue. Mish keda walla eh, ya Fathi bey?!