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Viewing cable 09CAIRO1366, EGYPT: PROPOSED EXAPANSION OF JUDICIAL BODY BRINGS

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09CAIRO1366 2009-07-15 14:02 2011-02-16 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Cairo
VZCZCXRO8056
RR RUEHROV
DE RUEHEG #1366/01 1961423
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 151423Z JUL 09
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3203
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 CAIRO 001366 
 
SIPDIS 
 
NEA/ELA 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/14/2019 
TAGS: PREL PGOV KJUS PHUM EG
SUBJECT: EGYPT: PROPOSED EXAPANSION OF JUDICIAL BODY BRINGS 
STRONG CRITICISM FROM JUDGES 
 
REF: A. 2008 CAIRO 1339 B. 2007 CAIRO 3526 Classified By: Economic-Political Minister Counselor Donald A. Blome fo r reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)
1. Key Points: -- (C) The proposed expansion by presidential decree of the constitutionally-mandated Supreme Judicial Council (SJC), the judiciary's governing body, has drawn fire from judges who accuse Minister of Justice Mamdouh Marei of seeking to exploit the changes to the SJC to increase the numbers of judges appointed by the executive branch. The changes, along with recent mandatory retirements of key judges, could significantly alter Egypt's judicial landscape. -- (U) Following pressure from judges groups, President Mubarak, requested that the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) withdraw the decree, citing the public outcry and his desire to see "constitutional bodies" like the parliament consulted. On July 13, the MOJ announced the withdrawal of the decree and said the Minister would submit draft legislation to the parliament for review. -- (C) Most agree that the decree was a trial balloon. Some believe the draft will now be quietly shelved, while others expect the legislation will eventually be submitted, perhaps with a slightly modified approach. -- (C) This is not the first time that judges have clashed with Minister Marei, criticizing him for implementing administrative changes they feel infringe upon judicial independence.

2. (U) On July 1, the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) announced that it had endorsed a draft presidential decree to expand its members from 7 to

11. According to Article 173 of the Constitution, the SJC is presided over by the President and "governs judicial affairs" (For example: coordinating judicial assignments, secondments abroad, and a disciplinary board). Six of the seven current members of the SJC -- the President of the Court of Cassation and his two deputies, the Presidents of the Court of Appeals of Cairo, Alexandria and Tanta -- are seated according to a seniority system within each court. The seventh member, the Public Prosecutor, is appointed directly by the President. With the proposed change, the would-be new SJC members would include the Presidents of the Courts of Appeals of Ismailia and Mansoura, both also subject to a seniority system, and the Presidents of the Tribunals of North and South Cairo, which as courts of first instance, are appointed by the MOJ directly.

3.(U) Public criticism was immediate and judges clubs throughout Egypt held emergency meetings to respond to the announced draft. Critics contend the proposed expansion of the SJC waters down the body's independence by adding more members nominated by the Minister thus making the council more subject to his influence. Former chairman of the Cairo Judges' Club Zakaria Abdel-Aziz was reported in the media calling the use of a presidential decree an effort to "steamroll" the change while the parliament is out of session, noting that the constitution allows presidential decrees in matters which "cannot suffer delay."

4.(C) The independent daily Al-Masry-Al-Yom reported that "informed sources" said that President Mubarak "expressed his annoyance" with the judicial reaction to the draft decree, calling for respect for constitutional institutions, such as the People's Assembly and Shura, and their role in the discussion of new legislation. The article reports that Mubarak then called for consultation with the judiciary on the draft. XXXXXXXXXXX believes that the draft is likely to remain in the works given the announcement that a bill will be offered for review by the parliament and consultation with the judges. In XXXXXXXXXXX'S view, this is a staged publicity stunt which allows President Mubarak to "save the day."

5.(C) A similar furor erupted over a 2007 draft (ref B) of a later amended Judicial Authorities Law (ref A) approved in 2008, which reformed the Supreme Council for Judicial Authorities (SCJA), a body also responsible for judicial oversight. In a similar turn of events, President Mubarak asked the MOJ to withdraw the first draft after significant public criticism. A new draft was submitted to parliament in 2008. Following endorsement from the chair of the SJC (significantly not the entire body) it was passed by the CAIRO 00001366 002 OF 002 parliament in June. At the time the law was criticized for being vague in its description of the SCJA's competencies and how they relate to the oversight performed by the SJC as well as the new role created for the Minister of Justice which allows him to preside over the SCJA in the president's absence.

6.(SBU) The expansion of the SJC is not the only change in the judiciary in the last several months. Recent mandatory retirements of senior judges will significantly change the makeup of the bench at the highest levels. In February, President Mubarak rejected an increase in the retirement age for all judges to 72 from 70 (this would have been the fifth such increase). Of those justices required to retire (their replacements were sworn two weeks ago following the end of the "judicial year" in June) three were current members of the SJC: the President and First Vice President of the Court of Cassation; and the President of the Cairo Court of Appeal (the person in that position also heads the Supreme Electoral Commission).

7.(C) Comment: In a recent meeting with the Ambassador, Minister of Justice Marei brushed off the controversy surrounding the proposed expansion, commenting that people will always find something to criticize. There is significant resentment within the judicial community following efforts to diminish the role of the courts in election monitoring after the 2005 elections. The swift public outcry demonstrates just how much distrust remains between the judges and Marei. While some have told us that the withdrawal of the proposal is part of a planned effort to show President Mubarak riding in on his white horse to uphold the constitution, it is more likely simply something they thought would fly below the radar. We should expect to see this legislation on the parliament's agenda this fall. SCOBEY