Multiple assassinations and repeated threats fail to make Egypt’s judges buckle.
The hammer of terrorism meets the rock of faith, with Muslim and Christian alike proclaiming a reality of inner peace.
‘What is the worst that can happen?’ Judge Adel Maged, vice-president of the Court of Cassation, the highest judicial court in Egypt, asks. ‘If they kill us, we become martyrs in our holy mission to dispense justice.’
Western media is full of explosive images of ISIS and others seeking death for the sake of Islam. Maged calls it ‘distorted’, seeking political gain.
Quietly, Egypt’s judges paint a different picture as the fight comes to them.
Bombs have been planted outside the homes of several. In mid-May bullets riddled the car of three judges travelling to their courthouse in the Sinai.
Six weeks later the Islamic State published agonising video of the atrocity. Hours afterwards a remotely detonated bomb killed Egypt’s public prosecutor, Hisham Barakat, on his way to work.
No one has yet claimed responsibility for the outrage on 29 June, and investigations are ongoing.
‘It is wrong for the tyrants to jail our brothers,’ Islamic State’s affiliate in Sinai said in a statement, referring to the judges in an audio message translated by Reuters one month earlier. ‘Poison their food . . . surveil them at home and in the street . . . destroy their homes with explosives if you can.’
But it is not just hardline extremists threatening judges. Lapido Media previously detailed Muslim Brotherhood endorsement of a document calling for ‘retribution’.
At issue is the death sentence issued to former president Mohamed Morsi and several hundred of his supporters. Thousands of others languish in prison.
The 52-year-old Maged thinks it is ‘ironic’ that such groups, like himself, see death as martyrdom. But while God will judge between them, he says, it will not deter him from his religious duty with the law.
‘The Quran says, “Do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just,”’ said Maged, a founding member of the research group Islam, Law and Modernity at Durham University, UK, where he is an honorary professor.
‘These threats will never stop us from treating all parties fairly and impartially, regardless of their social, political, or religious affiliation.’
Despite the threats against the judiciary, Maged’s daughter is following in his footsteps, studying law in Cairo. His eight-year-old son is undergoing British schooling. His family is nervous, and his wife is praying for the circles of violence to cease in all Arab countries.
Those under the direct target of terrorists should be given more security, Maged said. But the killing of random judges in the Sinai show that all are vulnerable.
But though he has taken ‘extra precautions’ at home in his upscale suburb in Cairo, Maged is undaunted. ‘We are used to working with all sorts of criminals,’ he said. ‘These incidents will never make us afraid, as God is our protector.’
Meanwhile, on his way to work Judge Amir Ramzy lazily gazes at the water buffalo browsing in green fields alongside the agricultural canals.
It is a strange serenity for someone whose name is on a death list.
Ramzy is among those directly targeted, his name found on a list on a terrorist captured in January 2014. Even then he declined an offer of extra security.
It is no different now.
‘I believe in God and everything is in his hand,’ the president judge of the criminal court in Benha told Lapido. ‘But I will die when it is written, no one can add a single day to his life,’ referencing the Biblical wisdom.
Ramzy’s driver navigates narrow roads and frequent speed humps during the 55-kilometer-trek north of Cairo through the Nile Delta.
His courthouse is fitted out with extra security, much of which he can bypass due to his position.
At the door to his chambers two policemen stand guard.
Cameras should be installed at every entrance, he says, but there are simply too many judges to guard on a personal basis. And so he commutes, alone.
Ramzy counts 7,000 judges and 6,000 prosecutors in Egypt. Ninety per cent, he believes, are as religious as he is.
‘All of us know very well that we are targets for these murderers,’ said the 41-year-old father of two, a boy of 14 and girl of 11.
‘My family is afraid, but we are Christians and we pray every morning, putting our lives in God’s hands.’
But religious or not, fear is natural. Remaining anonymous, some judges express it.
‘I am concerned about going to work,’ one judge told Egypt Source after the public prosecutor was killed, adding that other colleagues were concerned for their safety.
‘We feel a lot of pressure now,’ he continued. ‘If they can get to him, they can get to anyone.’
Perhaps. But for Maged, he and his fellow judges have a sacred duty.
‘Ours is a practice of the Prophet that must be performed,’ he said. ‘We are going about our normal lives.’
Both images are from the web. Copyright applied for.