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Hossam el-Hamalawy

Egypt’s 'golden age of unity'

Mohammad Nagui Shehata: Above all laws? (AFP)

Date of publication: 6 February, 2015

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In less than ten years, Egypt’s judges have gone from icons of democracy to the counterrevolution‘s aggressive hounds. It is, boasts Egypt’s new regime, a golden age of unity… between the judges, police and army.
In 2006, they were the icons of democracy. Thousands of Egyptians, at the time, took to the streets in successive waves, met with brute police force, chanting on their behalf and expressing their solidarity, in what was dubbed the “Cairo Spring”.

In 2015, however, they have become champions of the counterrevolution, ensuring tens of thousands of opposition activists and ordinary citizens remain in jail, sentencing defendants en masse to death in Kangaroo courts, absolving government and security officials from any wrong-doing.
     LE500 a month for a judge?! That won’t be even enough to pay the maid.

Egypt’s judges have come a long way from spearheading dissent to being the counterrevolution’s aggressive hounds.

On Thursday, Alaa Abdel Fattah, a leading 33-year-old activist, who’s been on hunger strike for more than three months, was ordered to remain in prison during his ongoing trial together with 26 defendants over violating the protest law.

Prominent Egyptian activist, 26-year-old Ahmed Doma, was sentenced also, along with another 299, to life in prison and a LE17 million fine, in a sham trial over their role in December 2011 anti-military riots.

The presiding judge over Doma’s case, Mohammad Nagui Shehata, had the day before sentenced another 183 defendants to death over the killing of 13 police officers in Kerdassa, Giza. Shehata was also the same judge who sentenced al-Jazeera journalists to jail.

It would take volumes to list the cases Shehata has been overseeing over the past years, his draconian sentences as well as the abuse he directs against lawyers, which pushed the Lawyers’ Syndicate to instruct its members to boycott his trials.

Although judges have been disciplined previously for releasing media statements, Shehata seems to be above all rules and regulations, giving interviews to pro-regime papers and TV stations, smearing Doma and his colleagues, as well as stating explicitly that Egypt “needs harsh sentences to return to stability.”

We are all Shimaa al-Sabagh

Shehata is only one among hundreds of civilian judges who are serving Sisi’s will, together with a corps of military counterparts.

The 2006 Cairo Spring saw Egypt’s judiciary split, among reformers who were lobbying for more judicial independence from the executive authorities, and those who were pro-regime. The struggle also included demands to improve the living conditions and wages of judges, seen by reformers as essential to guarantee a better corps and to curb corruption.

Mubarak’s autocratic regime was not a monolithic entity. The components of that regime in the three branches: judicial, legislative, and executive, all collaborated in public control, but they were the “warring brothers”. Each institution had developed its own interests and was competing to enlarge its share of the cake. Such friction or splits among the ruling elites always create room, unintentionally most of the time, for dissent from below in other sectors of society.

I’ll never forget an interview I conducted with one of the judge revolt leaders, in his apartment in the upscale neighbourhood of Zamalek, where he paused at some point and shouted:

“LE500 a month for a judge?!” referring to their average monthly salaries at the time without allowances. “That won’t be even enough to pay the maid,” he added, pointing his Filipino housekeeper who was bringing the tea.

Even when the judges were motivated to confront the regime over increasing their powers and enhance their living conditions, they were still part of that regime – that regime which was shaken by the 2011 revolution, but never fell – that regime that regrouped and came back with vengeance on the back of the military coup in 2013 with the aim of stifling any form of threat to its existence.

Nothing could describe the picture clearer than General Mohamed Ibrahim, the interior minister, who bragged: “We are living a golden age of unity between the judges, police and the army.”

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