Monday, May 02, 2005

It Reaches Egypt

There have been a lot of reports recently about how President Bush has "lost" his election mandate (see the latest from today's Washington Post). But his election mandate is just fine. It was a mandate to fight the war—a mandate that wiped out domestic opposition to the war, allowing the subjugation of Fallujah and the Iraqi election, and the continuing shock waves that followed, from Lebanon to Egypt.

The latest shock wave in Egypt is very big: a revolt by the nation's judges, who are demanding their independence from the executive—and who are only doing so now because they expect support from the West. Look for this story to get bigger in about two weeks, when a national judges' association meets and many more judges will potentially join this political rebellion.

"Some Judges in Egypt Lend Voice to Chorus for Reform," Megan K. Stack, LA Times, 5/2/05

"The rebellion erupted last month in the sober, stolid quarters of the Alexandria Judges' Club: 1,200 magistrates publicly demanded judicial independence from an all-powerful president, and threatened to refuse to certify fall elections if they didn't get it.... The judges' demand is a symptom of a new, unpredictable energy that has seized Egyptian politics after decades of stagnation—and of the popular discontent snowballing in the region. 'We guess that this is our chance,' said Assam Abdel Gabbar, an Alexandria judge who sits on Egypt's court of appeals, 'and we don't believe it will come again anytime soon.'... The judges acknowledge they are taking advantage of pressure already bearing down on Mubarak's 24-year-old regime. The elections are approaching fast, and US leaders have been unusually critical of Arab dictatorships—including Egypt, a longtime American ally. 'Our main aim from the start was to choose a time when those abroad would hear us,' said Hisham Bastawisi, a Cairo judge on the court of appeals. 'The West didn't used to listen to us; now they're listening. They used to listen only to governments and to back up dictatorships, but recently they're listening to the people.' President Bush's emphasis on democratization in the Middle East, coupled with elections in Iraq and the popular uprising in Lebanon, have contributed to a sense of unease among the region's dictatorships....

"On the books, the maximum monthly salary for an Egyptian judge hovers between $43 and $86. As one former judge said despondently, it's not even enough to pay the maid. And so the judges depend upon bonuses doled out by the justice minister. Some judges collect as many as 20 checks a month, with the bonus pay and fringe benefits such as transportation costs."