Step Aside, Justice: Judges Out of the Picture in Egypt's Elections

Justice Waleed El Shafey is puzzled. Why would the regime bring judges to supervise elections where they have no authority or power to do their job? According to an interview with Al Masry Al Youm, Egypt's largest independent daily newspaper, Judge Shafey described the humiliating episode he had to endure on Election Day, November 28th, when he tried to do the very job the constitution and the government entrusted him to do. As a member of the Election Committee, he was sent to investigate reports of alleged restrictions on voters' access to stations in Badrashin, Giza, a part of greater Cairo. Upon arrival he was intercepted by a thug then was humiliated by a security officer. When Judge Shafey introduced himself, demanded access to investigate the reports and presented his credentials, the security officer confiscated his ID card and told him "to step aside." Shafey was then held next to the gate by security soldiers for some time before he managed to call and get help from the regional committee.

When he later managed to walk around the place, he found out that government employees, supposedly manning the polling stations, were busy filling voting ballots. When he inquired what was happening one lady told him "we are just about to finish, Sir." Judge Shafey tried to complain to the head of the Supreme Election Committee, but was made to understand that the Committee powers are limited and that there is nothing much that can be done really. So, he filed a complaint with the Attorney General and went to the press.

Another judge claimed that only "certain" judges were selected to be members of the Election Committee, implying that only judges known to be more loyal to the regime were chosen. Justice Shafey is surely no longer in this category, which means he should be prepared for unpleasant hardships coming his way. The regime uses all kinds of positive and negative incentives, punishments and manipulation tactics to try to keep Egypt's Judiciary from repeating what happened during 2005 when the Judges Movement inspired Egyptians imagination with demands of independent judiciary and real guaranties to allow judges to do the job which the constitution then entrusted them to do, which was to supervise every election station with a real judge. At that time, Egypt's Judges Club was ruled by an independent board and judges released several reports condemning the regime's tactics in systematically rigging elections. Those judges involved were punished. Most of them were pushed to early retirement or even leave the country. Since then, the regime gained control on the Judges Club in the following board elections. In 2007, the regime also changed the constitution to restrict judges role in supervising the election to a symbolic, or even a PR one. And this is what Justice Shafey had to experience the hard way. When he was asked to step aside and allow the security to "produce" the results according to the preset script. A script where the ruling NDP obtained overwhelming majority in an opposition-free parliament.