Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi swore in the heads of two top judicial bodies over the weekend following constitutional amendments passed in April that granted the president increased power over the selection process allegedly as part of his ongoing fight against terrorism.
In June parliament approved two laws granting the president the power to select heads of the military judiciary and the five other judicial bodies in the country. Previously the president was only allowed to appoint the most senior judge and courts selected their own chiefs.
Though many Egyptian judges are pro-regime and have issued death sentences en masse to members of the Brotherhood and other members of the opposition, including to children, they are not completely under the president’s command.
In January 2017 the Court of Cassation upheld a decision to reject Al-Sisi’s attempts to transfer the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia, initially won the previous June but appealed by the government.
In the past Al-Sisi has complained that “the arm of justice is being chained by the law” and that long appeals were delaying executions. The judiciary’s attempts to appear independent have also irked the president.
At the time Al-Sisi’s move to consolidate power was contested by Egypt’s supreme judicial bodies for violating the independence of the judiciary guaranteed in the constitution. The Egypt Judges’ Club urged the president to reject the amendments; some judges threatened to strike, others said that they would not supervise parliamentary elections.
On Saturday, Judge Abdallah Amin Asr was sworn in as the head of the Court of Cassation, a position that Judge Anas Omara was widely tipped to win. But Omara had drawn disapproval from authorities after he overturned mass death penalty sentences, including for members of the Brotherhood.
Yehia Al-Dekroury issued the ruling blocking the government’s decision to transfer the Red Sea islands, and it is widely observed that the constitutional amendments have been designed to block Omara and Al-Dekroury from taking up high-ranking positions.