Judges Threaten to Boycott Constitutional Referendum

By Ali Al-Bassam
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt — Last Monday, the head of the Judge’s Club, an unofficial body who represents the judges of Egypt, urged its members to boycott overseeing the referendum of a draft constitution, which is scheduled for December 15, due to a standoff between the president and the judiciary.

Amongst the protesters are many judges, who may boycott overseeing the constitutional referendum. (Photo Courtesy of BBC News)

The boycott is a response to one of President Mohamed Morsi’s constitutional declarations, which temporarily strips judges of their ability to overturn presidential decisions or to dissolve the Constituent Assembly.  The draft constitution and recent power decrees by Morsi has been met with widespread protests, as protesters returned to Tahrir Square in Cairo, where calls to oust former President Hosni Mubarak occurred a year ago, to voice their dissent.  Egypt’s judges are considered to be the strongest critics to Morsi’s recent decisions.

Judge Zakaria Shalash, head of the Cairo Appeal Court, expects a majority of judges to side with the Judge’s Club in its boycott.  Shalash believes that if, during the process of the boycott, lawyers or law professors are called on to take the place of  boycotting judges, then the referendum will be deemed invalid.  Ahmed Yehia Ismail, head of the South Cairo Criminal Court, disagrees.  Ismail believes that a majority of the judges will take part in overseeing the referendum due to their ethical and professional responsibilities.

Malek Adly, a lawyer at the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, said that lawyers do not have the right to oversee the referendum, calling it illegal.  “It is illegal because the judges, not lawyers, not professors, nor any other group, need to be the observers according to the law and the constitution.”  Adly also said that it is expected by the international community that the referendum would be overseen by judges.  Ibrahim Elnur, a professor of Political Science at the American University in Cairo, does not think this will be an option.  “All of the professors have different political opinions.  They cannot replace the judiciary; they are a completely different category.”

Earlier on Sunday, Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court decided to shelve its work indefinitely after Morsi’s supporters prevented judges from convening.  In determining the legality of Morsi’s constitutional decree, the court planned to make a ruling over whether to dissolve the upper house of Parliament and the constituent assembly.  A new date for the ruling has yet to be set.

Morsi is accused of usurping sweeping powers and pushing the Muslim Brotherhood’s agenda.  The secular opposition promises to stage a civil disobedience campaign against the vote, and with judges divided on boycotting the referendum, it is unsure what their level of participation will be.

For further information, please see:

Ahram Online — Judges, Legal Experts Weigh up Scenarios Ahead of Constitutional Referendum — 3 December 2012

Al Jazeera — Egypt Judges Reject Role in Constitutional Vote — 3 December 2012

BBC News — Egypt Judges ‘to Oversee Referendum’ Despite Boycott — 3 December 2012

Daily News Egypt — Judges Club Will not Observe the Referendum — 3 December 2012

Author: Ali Al-Bassam