Two Egyptian high court judges, Mahmud Mekki and Hisham Bastawisi, have become unlikely heroes of the country’s movement for democracy.
The judges are facing prosecution for exposing wide scale electoral fraud that saw Hosni Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party returned to power in parliamentary elections at the end of last year.
Their trial at the high court in central Cairo has become a daily test of nerves between opposition activists and the state security forces.
Inside the building Mekki and Bastawisi face charges of slandering the judiciary, while outside their supporters face harassment, beatings and arrests.
On the first day of the trial, over 300 judges attempted to enter the courtroom to observe the proceedings.
But the court ruled that supporters of the two defendants and their legal teams should be excluded.
Mekki and Bastawisi have boycotted proceedings, demanding that arrested opposition activists should be released.
Both judges serve on the 21-member committee appointed by the independent Judges’ Club to report on the autumn 2005 parliamentary elections.
During this election there were widespread reports of ballot rigging and attempts by state security forces to stop voters casting their vote in areas that looked like they might elect opposition candidates.
For many years judges did not speak out against the regime’s abuses. This began to change four years ago when reformers swept the elections for the professional associations such as the Judges’ Club.
Bastawisi told Socialist Worker, “The state was able to control [the pro-regime] judges throughout the 1990s, but the judges, through direct free elections, have been able to elect leaders who are building the campaign for judicial independence.
“The people want to see democracy and respect for human rights. But the political parties have always been controlled by the government, which has weakened and marginalised them so that people have lost confidence in them.”
The 2005 elections became a focus for pent-up anger against the Mubarak dictatorship.
Mubarak’s regime targeted those areas where the opposition Muslim Brotherhood looked likely to win seats.
There was also fraud in districts where socialist and Arab nationalist candidates were in the running.
Mekki, told Socialist Worker, “The election results that were announced changed the facts expressed on the ballot papers.
“We insisted on the necessity of an investigation into these incidents, and it was expected that we would face pressure from the government because of our stance.”
Far from intimidating the judges, the trial is galvanising opposition to the regime, and has catapulted the normally conservative judiciary into the centre of the movement for reform.
Bastawisi said, “This is a struggle between the people and the government. The judges are building the demands of the people, and the people as a whole want an independent judiciary.
“They want a clean judiciary, free and fair elections, and the judges are expressing these views.”
The judges were heartened by the bravery of the protests outside the courtroom.
Bastawisi said, “During the first disciplinary hearing there were many people who came from Suez, Port Said, Alexandria and Aswan. Masses of people came from every province.”
Solidarity needed by the movement
- Stop state brutality in Egypt Public meeting, 6.30pm, Monday 22 May, German YMCA, Lancaster Hall Hotel, 35 Craven Terrace, London. Speakers include John Rees and the Committee of Support for Egyptian Judges (CSEJ).
- International day of action Picket the Egyptian embassy, 5.30pm, Thursday 25 May, South Street, London. Called by Stop the War Coalition, CSEJ and Globalise Resistance.
- Send messages of protest
To Counsellor Maher Abd al-Wahid, Public Prosecutor, Dar al-Qadha al-Ali, Ramses Street, Cairo, Egypt. Fax 00202 577 4716. Copy to Gehad Refaat Madi, Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt, 26 South Street, London W1Y 6DD. Fax 020 7491 1542.