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Flawed justice in Egypt: Thousands of Egyptian graduates excluded from public prosecutor job

Flawed justice in Egypt
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In the winter of 2017, law graduate Mahmoud Al-Amir took a train from the governorate of Asyut to Cairo to apply for the job of assistant prosecutor. He was one of more than ten thousand young applicants who gathered before Egypt's High Court building to retrieve their application forms for the job.

A year earlier, Mahmoud graduated with honours from the Faculty of Law at Asyut University, ranking among the top ten of his class, stating: "I worked very hard for four years to graduate top of my class hoping to get a job in the Public Prosecutor's Office."

Mahmoud passed all the required tests, paid the 200 Egyptian pounds for the application fee, sat for an interview and finally passed all background security checks routine for job applicants in this sector. Later, he was shocked to learn that his name was not among the newly appointed assistant prosecutors listed in Presidential Decree no. 166 of 2017.

'My family and I were beyond shocked!'

Mahmoud is one of thousands of Egyptians excluded from being appointed to the Public Prosecutor's Office for unknown reasons. This violates the Egyptian Constitution of 2014, in which Article 9 stipulates: "The state ensures equal opportunity for all citizens without discrimination." Article 14 further specifies: "Public posts are a right for citizens based on merit, with no favouritism or interference."

Many Egyptians lost their chance to be appointed as the system favours the sons and daughters of judges. This investigation found that between 2012 and 2021, 27 per cent of appointments were won by the children and relatives of serving or retired judges. Upon reviewing the names of appointees throughout this period, and excluding a margin of error, it was found that out of 3,833 newly appointed assistant prosecutors, 1,035 positions went to the children or relatives of judges.

Graduates of law and Sharia (Islamic law)

Graduates of Law and Sharia (Islamic Law)

Source: Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics Data 2012-2020, excluding private and open universities of law. The years 2012 and 2013 were merged.  

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The inspection interview

Mahmoud recounts that after submitting his application, he attended an "inspection" interview by a supervising judge whose job is to ensure that his file includes all the necessary documents and qualifications papers.

Required Documents:

– Temporary graduation diploma and GPA

– Transcript of the last four years of grades

– A birth certificate

– A clear criminal record certificate

– A clear criminal record certificate for the applicant's father. If he's an expatriate, a record of his departure from the Passport Authority and a signed undertaking to submit his clear criminal record upon his return

– A Death certificate if the applicant's father is deceased<

– A military Service certificate or waiver

– Photocopy of the applicant's National ID

– A copy of the deed of property ownership or agricultural land ownership

– 4 recent personal photographs in formal attire with a white background and the applicant's name written on the back of each photo

– A certificate of employment for the applicant's father with his job title, monthly salary and academic credentials

– Family registry record detailing the applicant's father, paternal grandfather and maternal grandfather (4 copies of each record)

– An application file, to be requested before the date of application after the payment of 500 Egyptian pounds to the treasury of the Office of Appointments.

The inspecting judge's job also includes determining an applicant's social and financial status by examining their father's education, academic credentials, sources of income and ownership deeds. The judge also checks an applicant's siblings' occupations and academic credentials. Aunts and uncles are also examined, after which the judge files a report to a supervising committee that either approves or denies an applicant's appointment.

Application Conditions for the Job of assistant prosecutor

– Must be a citizen of the Arab Republic of Egypt

– Not younger than 19 years old

– Must possess a good character and reputation

– Must hold a law degree from a faculty of law in Egypt or an equivalent foreign degree, in which case an applicant must pass an equivalence test according to the set rules and regulations

– Applicant must not have received a sentence for dishonourable conduct from any disciplinary or judicial tribunal councils, even if they were later acquitted

Source: Articles 38 and 116 of the Judicial Authority Law 42 of 1972 and its amendments.

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Personal Interview

Mahmoud says that he passed all preliminary tests and was given a date to sit for a "personal interview" in front of a judiciary committee called the "Committee of Seven".

Lawyer Hazem Sabri, who specialises in cases of appointment exclusion in judicial entities, explains: "The Committee of Seven is made up of the public prosecutor, the chief of the Supreme Judicial Court and the Court of Cassation, the chiefs of Alexandria and Tanta's Courts of Appeal and the three most senior counsellors in the Court of Cassation."

On the interview day, Mahmoud wore his black suit and tie, which he bought especially for the occasion, and sat down, waiting alongside 15 other applicants until they were called into a dimly lit room.

The applicants sat on a single row of chairs before a table with the seven judges who asked the same legal question, which the applicants took turns answering. The whole process did not exceed two to three minutes, and each candidate had only a few seconds to speak.

Sabri criticises the absence of "clear criteria" upon which these interviews are based, adding that some highly qualified applicants were excluded, while others with lower grade point averages (GPAs) were chosen for the interviews.

Lawyer Ghallab Hattab, who specialises in constitutional and cassation courts and cases of appointment exclusion, reproves the system upon which these interviews are conducted and their "ridiculously irrational" timeframe. He asserts: "We have to take into account the sudden nature of these questions. You cannot properly evaluate several applicants with different levels of ability and potential within a few seconds."

Hattab believes that the current interview committee is not qualified enough to evaluate these applicants, as they are neither university professors nor trained psychologists. He adds that these candidates had already passed at least 20 written and oral exams while at university, which is a fair indicator of their high academic abilities.

Psychological testing

Mahmoud explains that, based on the personal interview and the committee's report, the candidates are shortlisted and begin the third stage of the application process – the "psychological test". This test is carried out by two neurologists who ask applicants why they decided to study law or want to become judges.

Mahmoud adds that only a small number of applicants reach this stage as the tests become more selective and "favouritism" or interference on behalf of a candidate, known locally as "wasta" or "special connections" weighs heavily in the exclusion of many applicants due to favouring candidates related to judges and counsellors. Upon our examination of 3,833 names listed in presidential decrees as new appointees to serve in the Public Prosecutor's Office between 2012 and 2021, we found that 1,035 or 27 per cent were relatives of judges and counsellors.

It is also worth mentioning that the reporter of this investigation spent months examining only the first-degree relatives of applicants, such as fathers, mothers, siblings and uncles, in order to verify their relationships with judges and counsellors.

The investigation also found that 2021 witnessed a peak in the percentage of appointments of judges' relatives, reaching 34.1 per cent, while 2015 saw the highest number of appointments, with 182 newly appointed assistant prosecutors.

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Graduates of the faculties of law and Sharia

Graduates of the faculties of law and Sharia

Graduates of the faculties of law and Sharia

Grey: Total number of appointed relatives of judges

Red: Total number of appointments

Ragab Ezzedine, a researcher at the Egyptian Institute for Studies, believes that the "succession" aspect in judicial appointments is prevalent and deeply rooted in the minds of a vast majority of judges, to the extent that it is openly and directly discussed.

Ezzedine cites a 2018 study that includes a statement by former Minister of Justice Ahmad Al-Zand, asserting: "The appointment of the children of judges shall remain in effect, and no force in Egypt will stand in the way of this holy control of the judiciary system."

Image of former minister and quote

Image of former minister and quote

Legal researcher Menna Omar suggests that the inheritance of official positions or succession in the appointment process does not stem merely from the desire of judges to secure jobs for their children and relatives. It also expresses a sense of superiority and elitism that fuels the bias to keep the profession as selective as possible.

In her report, published on the Legal Agenda website in 2014, Omar states that succession in the judicial system began in the mid-2000s when former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak decided to use the judges' desire to appoint their relatives as a means to clamp down on the "Independence Movement". This movement was seen as non-conforming to the state's wishes and took over the leadership of the Egyptian Judges' Club between 2001 and 2009.

According to Omar, in response to the club's objections to the 2006 amendments of the Judicial Authority Law and the 2005 parliamentary elections rigging, Mubarak's regime decided to add a minimum rating of "good" instead of "satisfactory" as a condition for any appointment in the Public Prosecutor's Office.

Omar adds that Mubarak's strategy paid off, angering the judges who blamed the Independence Movement for this change that harmed their interests. This paved the way during the club's 2009 elections for the victory of the conservative-leaning Counsellor Al-Zand, who was known for his open support for hereditary access to the bar during his first term.

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Security checks

According to Mahmoud, a candidate's file is sent to the respective security directorates after passing the psychological test. There, a criminal background check is carried out, not only for the candidates themselves, but also for their first, second and third-degree relatives. After that, Egypt's National Security Agency investigates the political affiliations and tendencies of the candidate's family members.

Lawyer Hattab says that widening the criminal background checks beyond immediate family members, like parents and siblings, may be detrimental to many candidates. He adds that the Egyptian State Council has already issued several decisions requiring that security checks remain within the realm of immediate rather than extended family members, such as uncles, aunts and cousins.

Finally, a rejection

After passing all the aforementioned stages of the selection process, Mahmoud was shocked to learn that he was not chosen to serve at the Public Prosecutor's Office and that the names of other "less qualified applicants", according to Mahmoud, made it to the list of new appointees.

Mahmoud recalls that when the selection process results were announced during the holy month of Ramadan, he could not continue fasting that day due to the shock he suffered as a result of being rejected. When he filed a grievance case, enquiring about the reason behind the decision to reject his application, the supervising committee answered that he: "Had not passed the personal interview."

This investigation came across seven other cases similar to Mahmoud's, all of which were excluded from appointments in any judicial entities, such as the Public Prosecutor's Office, the State Council and the State Lawsuits Authority, for not passing the personal interview, even though those candidates had "good" and "very good" academic ratings.

Hattab also shares that the supervising committee always refuses to provide rejected applicants or their lawyers with the minutes of the interview. The committee states that all records have been destroyed and discarded, even though lawyers can present their grievances within 60 days of the announcement of new appointments.

Hattab adds that a committee may also claim that more than one applicant is contesting and requesting the minutes of the same interview, in which case the minutes cannot be given to one applicant's lawyer and not the other. Hattab suggests they should: "Simply make five or six copies of the interview's minutes, have them certified, and then give a copy to each of the appealing applicants. Committees still refuse to cooperate, but due to some pressure and perseverance, they may provide a failed applicant with an official statement only."

Hattab explains that within the last four years, the Egyptian State Council added another criterion that stands in favour of failed applicants if they are one of the top ten graduates of their class, whether they studied law and Sharia or only law. All other grievances are overlooked even if the appealing applicant graduated with honours and an academic rating of "excellent."

Mahmoud Al-Amir:

"I will not file a lawsuit as nobody has ever won them. As for their response to the grievances we filed, well, they appointed ten from Asyut University, four of whom were children of judges and six were specialist police officers."

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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