By Mai Shams El-Din
CAIRO: Judges debated the influence of the ruling military council on the decisions of the Appeals Court one day after its head emerged triumphant following a crisis that would have shrunk his authority.
A group of independent judges had urged earlier the general assembly of the Appeals Court to withdraw confidence from its chief, Justice Abdel Moez Ibrahim, for his alleged intervention in the illegal funding case of foreign NGOs.
Ibrahim is accused of pulling strings to lift a travel ban imposed on seven foreign aid workers on trial for operating in Egypt without a license and receiving illicit funds to allegedly meddle in the country’s politics. Judges considered this an infringement on the independence of the judiciary.
While 101 judges gave Ibrahim a no-confidence vote, 154 supported him, meaning that he will continue to run the affairs of the Appeals Court.
However, Appeals Court Chancellor Hisham Geneina slammed the assembly’s decision, deeming it a “catastrophe” in the history of the Egyptian judiciary.
“The accusations made against him in the investigations [conducted by the Supreme Judicial Council] are enough to send him to the Criminal Court if proven true, not just to withdraw confidence from him,” the leader of the judicial independence movement said in a TV appearance Tuesday.
“This decision reflects a lot of corruption and a fundamental defect in the Egyptian judicial system,” he said, claiming that Ibrahim had met with members of the ruling military council before the general assembly meeting and pressured the judges to support him.
Geneina said that during the meeting, Judge Ahmed Refaat, who presides over the trial of ousted president Hosni Mubarak, sent a letter supporting Ibrahim. The letter was read during the assembly meeting and was received by applause.
“This is illegal; either Refaat attends the meeting in person and votes or not. There is an [iron] fist controlling the Egyptian judiciary,” Geneina said.
Spokesman of the Judges Club Chancellor Mahmoud El-Sherif criticized the fact that some judges were too quick to call for the general assembly meeting.
“They should have waited for the results of the investigation by the Supreme Judicial Council before holding the meeting. If the accusations against him were proven, he would have received a no-confidence vote,” El-Sherif told DNE Wednesday.
Yet, the assembly’s decisions, he said, must be respected, because “as judges, we cannot issue a verdict without evidence, and until now there is no evidence against Ibrahim.”
El-Sherif, however, explained that even a no-confidence vote would not have affected Ibrahim’s position, but only limit his powers.
“He would have continued to head of the Appeals Court and retain his place in the Presidential Election Committee,” he said.
“The no-confidence vote would have taken away his authority to run the court’s affairs which means he would lose the power to allocate cases to the various courts,” El-Sherif said, adding that the technical office of the court will be sacked.
Zakareya Abdel Aziz, head of the Appeals Court in Alexandria and former head of the Judges Club, told DNE Wednesday that the assembly’s vote reflects remnants of the old regime’s stranglehold on the Egyptian judiciary.
Ibrahim’s term in office ends in three months, according to Abdel Aziz.