Saturday, May 14, 2005

Egypt facing judicial rebellion

Egypt facing judicial rebellion

By Heba Saleh
BBC News, Cairo

Judges in Egypt have refused to oversee September's presidential election unless new legislation is passed guaranteeing their independence.

They also want assurances they will be allowed to oversee all stages of the electoral process.

More than 2,000 judges backed the demands at a Cairo meeting of the judge's club, an elected body of Egypt's judiciary.

This is an unprecedented show of defiance to the Egyptian government.

The Egyptian government is used to getting its own way, but now it is facing a revolt from a key branch in the state.

Police control

The country's judges have voted massively to refrain from supervising presidential elections later this year unless the government agrees to their demands.

They want parliament to adopt legislation that would make the judiciary completely independent of government control.

They also want to supervise all stages of the election, from the preparation of voters' lists to the announcement of results.

There was no mistaking the anger of the judges who attended the Cairo meeting.

Speaker after speaker said the judiciary refused to function as a tool in the hands of the government to legitimise fraudulent elections.

They complained that in elections five years ago they were restricted to overseeing the actual casting of ballots, while outside voting stations police erected barricades to prevent opposition supporters from entering.

The judges agreed they would meet again in September to consider the response to any concessions the government might offer.

The meeting was due to be broadcast live by al-Jazeera television, but the station says police arrested its crew to prevent the transmission.

Authorities appear to have decided the fury of the judges was too incendiary to broadcast to the general public.