The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) held, as part of its Ibn Rushd Salon series on the 5th of Feb. 2007, a panel entitled “Is it possible to guarantee the fairness of elections by cancelling judicial supervision?” Participants in the discussion were Dr. Mohammed El Beltagy, the general secretary of the Muslim Brotherhood’s parliamentary bloc, Chancellor Adel Koura, former president of the Court of Appeals and former president of the Supreme Judicial Council. The discussion was moderated by Bahey El Din Hassan, director of CIHRS.
Dr. Mahmoud El Beltagy began with rejecting the term amendments for the changes being proposed to the constitution, saying they are constitutional distortions not amendments as they are called by some, indicating that these amendments would create a state of constitutional chaos because of their contradiction with many of the current constitution’s articles and with the Egyptian demands for real constitutional and political reform.
He added that the constitutional amendments could be summed up under three big headings: ” the constitutionalizing of forgery for coming elections, ” “constitutionalizing emergency measures, and ” constitutionalizing the suppression and restraint of the viable forces in society” at the heart of which is the Muslim Brotherhood, stressing that these changes constitute a real threat to the future of the nation and to all citizens.
He affirmed that the ruling party’s adoption of the motion to cancel article 88 of the constitution, which provides for judicial supervision on elections, as part of the proposed amendments comes in the context of the National Democratic Party’s (NDP) desire to distance the judges from participation in the public sphere, and to punish and get back at them for exposing the fraud that occurred in the last elections, in favor of the NDP’s candidates, as well as for their adherence to the independence of judicial authority, reiterating that this suppressive proposal presents an imminent threat to the future of the country.
El Beltagy accused the NDP of attempting to eliminate the Muslim Brotherhood from any coming electoral competition, after the success the Brotherhood achieved in the last parliamentary elections, as well as seeking to manipulate future elections without their being witnesses to their violations, after the judges uncovered previous violations. He snubbed the proposal to hold the elections on one day under the pretense of ensuring equal campaigning opportunity for all candidates, and dismissed the idea of the creation of an independent committee to monitor the elections, judging from past experience that it would not be neutral.
El Beltagy asked that the constitutional amendments be carried out in a balanced political environment, not in the state of what he described as political instability which Egypt is living now, which is a result of the infiltration of executive power into the realm of other authorities, which are no longer independent. He pointed out that constitutional amendments in countries all over the world take place in a stable atmosphere, so as to guarantee that the amendments reflect the needs of society in its different outlooks. He continued that the situation in Egypt is ominous considering the near total control of the executive power in general, and the control of security forces in particular on matters of public interest and decision making which was evident in what took place recently of violations of that people’s rights during the students’ unions and workers’ elections, and other instances.
He underlined the fact that the judiciary is a main bastion against electoral fraud and attempts at political despotism, where the NDP wants to take revenge on the judges who stood against fraud bared it for everyone to see, as well as isolating them from the public sphere in order to end the NDP’s competitive problems which were blatantly obvious in the last legislative elections.
On his part, Chancellor Adel Koura stated that the proposed amendments are not free from positive aspects, especially in regards to economic concerns, the balance between powers in the state, and giving more powers to the legislative authority, but he also indicated that the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled in 2000 that there would be judicial supervision on the electoral process from voting till the announcing of results.
Koura denied what was attributed to him in the press that he considered one of the flaws of the last elections to be judicial supervision, and stressed that the judges were one of the main monitors of previous elections, but that electoral supervision represents an exhausting extra burden on judges, and cancelling it would require finding an alternative to it that would satisfy the conditions of neutrality, independence and the ability to control all subsidiary electoral stations, indicating that, in this case, civil society organizations, would bear much of the burden in supervising the electoral process. Koura called for revitalizing the role of the court of appeals in declaring the validity of the membership of parliament members, criticizing the disrespect of the role of the court in this regard and relegating the matter to the parliament itself, adding that is not carrying out the rulings of the Court of Appeals, which is the highest court in the state, and goes against the constitution which states the authority of court rulings.
Bahey El Din Hassan posed the question of ” if participation rates were low in the presence of judicial supervision, what in the case of the removal of such supervision?” and emphasized that the ability of civil society institutions to supervise elections will diminish if elections are all held on one days, since they will not be able to cover all electoral districts in the Republic. Hassan also criticized the call for the creation of an independent committee to monitor elections saying that everyone has said that all talk of such a committee has never resulted in anything truly independent, as many stabs were made at the committee which supervised the last presidential elections, whose head was later appointed Minister of Justice, as if to reward him for how the elections were carried out!
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