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Controversial amendments expand Sisi's powers over Egypt's judiciary

Egyptian President Abdulfettah el-Sisi arrives for a meeting with members of the U. House Foreign Affairs Committee in Washington, US on April 4, 2017. ( Samuel Corum - Anadolu Agency )
Egyptian President Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi in Washington, US on 4 April 2017 [Samuel Corum / Anadolu Agency]

Egypt's highest judicial authority, the Supreme Judicial Council, sent the names of three judges to President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi on Sunday for him to choose one of them to head the Court of Cassation, the country's highest appeals court, in line with a newly amended law that now expands the president's powers over the judicial system.

Sisi was Egypt's defence minister when he led the military ouster of then President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, and he was later elected president in 2014. He has been widely criticised by local and international human rights advocates for what they see as broad human rights violations committed by the state under his rule.

Strongly opposed by a number of judicial bodies, the new law was ratified by Sisi on Thursday after it was approved by parliament. Prior to the amendments, courts' top judges were selected by the judiciary on the basis of seniority and the president only gave ceremonial approval.

The State Council had expressed its rejection of the new law in a statement last week, describing the amendments as unconstitutional.  Egypt's constitution stipulates that judicial bodies must be consulted on bills related to the judicial authority, although it does not oblige the parliament to abide by the judicial bodies' recommendations.

In line with the controversial amendments, the Supreme Judicial Council said on Sunday that it nominated the three most senior judges in the Court of Cassation for Sisi to select one of them to head the court.

This is the second judicial body to abide by the legal amendment authorising the president to choose its head from three nominations. The administrative prosecution, which investigates administrative violations, also sent Sisi three names on Saturday.

The amendments stipulate that each court must send to Sisi the names nominated for heading it at least 60 days before the position becomes vacant.

The judicial bodies affected by the new law are the Administrative Prosecution, the State Lawsuits Authority, the State Council and the Supreme Judicial Council. According to the amendments, each of these judicial bodies must now nominate three of its seven most senior judges and present the three names to the president to appoint one of them to head the court.

If one of these courts fails to send three names to the president at least 60 days before its top position becomes vacant, the president may unilaterally select and appoint one of the seven most senior judges in the court.

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