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.
The inevitable came right after the unthinkable. General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi finally declared his candidacy for president and resigned from the army. Two days earlier an Egyptian court ruled 529 Morsi supporters worthy of the death penalty, implicated in the murder of a single police officer. Somewhat surprisingly, neither decision prompted massive demonstrations.
But both prompted massive commentary. With Sisi it was more in line with profile, as the debate about him largely revisits the issue of coup vs. popular revolution, as it has since July. The mass judicial ruling, however, resulted in waves of celebration, explanation, and condemnation in the various press.
In both there is much to analyze, God. But there is more to lay before you. For the 529, give each their individual due. Perhaps some are innocent completely. Perhaps some are guilty of lesser charges. Someone was killed, and at least one is culpable.
But all deserve a thorough examination, as does the nation. May it start with the judge who is said to have violated court regulations. May it continue with the accused in accordance with the law. May it finish with the system which permitted its occurrence. May the coming appeals make clear what is generalized differently in all the above, that justice may prevail. May the people have confidence in this vital institution.
Perhaps of greater vitality, God, is the institution of the presidency. Over the next few months give wisdom to the people to discern their options. Whether Sisi, Sabbahi, or a pox on both their houses, help the different partisans to campaign winsomely and effectively.
Cause candidate Sisi to emerge from both his auras of popularity and contempt, to be judged on the basis of his leadership, platform, and vision for the nation. Maintain and enlarge this popularity if he is deserving; otherwise, may the people see and expose any disqualifying flaws.
But inasmuch as both Sisi and the 529 provoked only their base, renew the belief of the Egyptian people. Belief need not be witnessed on the streets, but stimulate citizens to take hold of their political future. Channel the undeniable energy of the past three years into mechanisms to secure the popular will. May they ever hold their system accountable, or perhaps more aptly, may they truly begin to.
Prevent both a surrender to an imagined inevitable and an acceptance of a once unthinkable. However these are defined, God, judge accordingly. But bless Egypt in all that comes.
Another protest was assaulted, this time one called for by Islamists. An otherwise peaceful demonstration calling to purge the judiciary was met by violence, when then lasted long into the night.
Not all Islamists participated; some believed such a protest would not help matters. Perhaps others remembered their own earlier criticism that continued demonstrations only serve to destabilize Egypt. This was a Muslim Brotherhood project, and it cost them Morsi’s minister of justice, an independent Islamist, who resigned in a protest of his own.
But if it is their project, what are they developing? What would a purge of the judiciary look like? The complaint is that many judges are of the Mubarak era, corrupt and aligned with the old order. The conspiracy claimed is that they are actively opposing the Islamist project, seeking to keep the nation in limbo by preventing development of democratic institutions on flimsy pretexts.
But the only proposal floated in the media currently is to lower the retirement age for judges, removing a few thousand of the most senior. Is such an across the board move a purge worthy of the name, eliminating corruption? Or does Brotherhood leadership have something else in mind?
God, it all seems clumsy and obvious. Certainly the justice minister thinks so. But in every sector of the old regime there was corruption. Mubarak manipulated the judges to the extent he could, but the judiciary was still relatively independent. He was unable to fully ply his will, and many opposed his policies. Surely there are good men among the senior judges.
Of course, many are also deeply suspicious of the Islamist project, which has shown willingness to step outside the law when circumstances merited. Where is the line between judicial pretext and blind justice? Are they subverting democracy, or catching Islamists when they try to cut corners?
Furthermore, are justices protecting former regime officers tried for the killing of revolutionaries? Or are they courageously issuing verdicts of innocence where insufficient evidence is presented? Someone killed hundreds; why do we still not know who?
No consensus exists for a straightforward purge of the judiciary, God. But to some degree the call is correct. Let the matter be in your hands. From good intention or ill, politicians may force a change. May it be that the sins of the guilty fall on the guilty. Protect the institution of the judiciary. Protect the honest judges. But for those who compromised themselves – no matter the commonness of their failing – may the guardians of Egypt’s law be clean moving forward.