Egypt's judiciary: Ahmed al-Zend and his brotherhood

Egypt's judiciary: Ahmed al-Zend and his brotherhood
4 min read
15 Feb, 2015
Comment: Ahmed Maher, co-founder of the 6 April youth movement that organised protests leading to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's ousting, discusses corruption in the Egyptian judicial system.
Ahmed Maher (R) handing himself in to prosecutors on 30 November 2013 [AFP]
The ruling issued by the Court of Cassation in Cairo was not unusual. I was not surprised by it. I was, though, by the statements lawyers and colleagues issued expressing shock that the court had rejected our appeal.

It is not unusual that the Court of Cassation upheld the ruling of three years in prison, a fine of 50,000 Egyptian pounds ($6500), and a further three-year period of surveillance after release for breaking the protest law.

     It is not unusual in Egypt for the judiciary to be unjust and biased towards corrupt authority.
On 30 November 2013, I handed myself in to prosecutors in Cairo after an arrest warrant was issued against me for inciting demonstrations against the new protest law. The following month authorities sentenced me to three years in prison. The new law that calls for three days notification before any protest is held was signed on 4 November 2013 by the then-acting President Adly Mansour.

Perhaps it was once possible to talk about the Court of Cassation's integrity, when judges had honour or at the very least fought for an independent judicial system. Regrettably, however, this does not happen today.

Even during former President Gamal Abdul Nasser's era (1956-1970) there were judges defending the independence of the judiciary from the executive branch. This happened even though Nasser did everything possible to nationalise and control the judicial system.

During Anwar Sadat's presidency (1970-1981) there were a number of proceedings, especially in the Court of Cassation, to overturn unjust rulings against opponents of the regime, especially after the January 1977 uprising.

When Hosni Mubarak was president (1981-2011), an independence movement began in 2005 to defend the judiciary, which refused to be implicated in the rigging of parliamentary or presidential elections.

Throughout Egypt's history, in fact, its judicial system has flourished and declined. Yet never before have we seen such levels of decline as today. And it is because of nepotism. Just as the son of an army officer will inevitably become an army officer regardless of ability, it has become inevitable that the son of a judge will also serve as a judge.

It is not unusual to find somebody who failed as a student became a public prosecutor and then a judge simply because their father is a judge.

Anyone following the speeches and statements made by Ahmed al-Zend, head of the Judges Club, in which he expresses his political bias, or read the rulings he issues before carrying out an investigation, can see that he controls the core of the judiciary along with his clique, his brotherhood. This man, who is plagued by accusations of corruption and of illegally seizing land, is working to destroy the judiciary's independence.

Before the January 2011 revolution, Egypt's centrist National Party urged Zend to confront the independence movement and the concept of the judiciary's independence from the executive branch.

Egypt's judiciary suffers from a number of problems, incluing slow process, miscarriages of justice, and a lack of independence from the executive branch.

Yet, Zend has always clearly stated he opposes reform of the judicial system, and most of Egypt's judges today are cut from Ahmed al-Zend's cloth. Linked by the interests of the executive branch and other state apparatus, they have become a sect with its own intractable interests. This sect, this brotherhood, cautions anyone commenting on judicial rulings even if they are blatantly unjust. It fiercely rejects suggestions that corruption exists within the system and judicial procedures.

It is no longer unusual for the Court of First Instance, followed by the Court of Appeal and then the Court of Cassation to only accept police investigations in court, even if they lack credible evidence. It is no longer unusual for them to hear the testimonies of police informers acting as witnesses in theft and rape cases; or for them to ignore video footage showing police officers and witnesses clearly lying.

It would not be unusual if Hosni Mubarak, his sons and ministers were acquitted despite their blatant corruption, while the harshest punishments are handed out to youths of the revolution, or those protesting peacefully. It is not unusual in Egypt for the judiciary to be unjust and biased towards corrupt authority. This can be expected of Ahmed al-Zend and his brotherhood, whose interests are linked to those of the executive authority and military establishment.

When will the judicial system be reformed so it can be independent, just and able to confront corruption? Perhaps this is for future generations to achieve. They may have to follow the example of those that caused the 2011 revolution, a repeat of which is likely as long as the alliance between the judicial system and the executive branch continues to hinder reforms.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.