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Sisi’s judicial appointments spark fears in Egypt3 min read

Last month, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi installed the heads of the Supreme Constitutional Court and other top courts

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Sisi's judicial appointments spark fears in Egypt
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. (Photo by Pavel Golovkin / POOL / AFP)

After Egypt’s President appointed top judges for the first time in the country’s modern history, criticism of the judiciary’s lack of independence is rampant.

Last month, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi installed the heads of the Supreme Constitutional Court, the Court of Cassation and the Administrative Prosecution Authority.

The move came as part of sweeping constitutional changes which extend the President’s term in office and give the military even greater influence over Egyptian political life.

The recent changes “raise some thorny questions”, said one judge.

“The role of the judge is to be at arm’s length from the executive, but this is inconsistent now with the fact that the President of the Republic is involved with a judge’s transfer, promotion and accountability,” he said.

Sisi’s new powers may lead some judges to be “compromised” through their new ties to the authorities, the judge said, obtaining “perks and privileges” for their legal decisions.

All judges who spoke to reporters did so anonymously due to the sensitivity of their comments.

‘Eroding’ independence –

The constitutional overhaul, which included four articles affecting the judiciary, was approved by 88 per cent of voters in an April referendum, according to the election authority.

Human Rights Watch said the changes would “entrench repression” and “consolidate authoritarian rule”.

Since Sisi took office in 2014, rights campaigners have regularly accused his government of abuses including unfair trials and torture, as well as a clampdown on opposition and the Press.

Thousands have been jailed in mass trials which Cairo claims are aimed at tackling terrorism.

The country’s Judges’ Club has slammed global criticism of the trials as “unacceptable interference in the work of the independent Egyptian judiciary and…the sovereignty of the Egyptian state.”

But the recent revamp of the judiciary is “further eroding its independence,” explains leading Egyptian lawyer and human rights activist Gamal Eid.

“Long periods of pre-trial detention, placing hundreds of people on terror lists and numerous death sentences are all examples of the current standing of the judiciary,” he added.

Egypt was ranked 66 out of 126 countries for government interference in criminal justice, in the Rule of Law Index released earlier this year by the World Justice Project.

The country was ranked 121st overall in the index, which includes areas such as fundamental rights and regulatory enforcement.

Whereas the justice minister would previously pick judges for certain top posts, approved by the President, now, Sisi has the right to make appointments directly.

“These laws have become a reality now,” said independent lawmaker Mohamed Fouad.

“The bitter and sweet parts of the amendments have gone through,” he added.

Those appointed to top judicial posts sit on a higher council headed by Sisi, which is consulted on new laws and works on promotions among other issues.

The wide-ranging changes — and particularly the President’s ability to directly make key appointments — has raised questions over the separation of powers between different areas of government.

“Competence must be determined by someone from within,” said a former senior judicial official.

“Can anyone from outside the field of medicine assess the performance of a doctor? Of course not.”

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Egypt celebrates 150 years of the Suez Canal

Dug in the 19th century using “rudimentary tools,” the canal has today become “a lifeline for Egypt and countries around the world

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Egypt celebrates 150 years of the Suez Canal

One hundred and fifty years after the Suez Canal opened, the international waterway is hugely significant to the economy of modern-day Egypt, which nationalised it in 1956.

The canal, which links the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, was opened to navigation in 1869 and was expanded in 2015 to accommodate larger ships. 

Dug in the 19th century using “rudimentary tools,” the canal has today become “a lifeline for Egypt and countries around the world,” Admiral Osama Rabie, head of the Suez Canal Authority, told AFP in a rare interview.

“We give credit to Ferdinand de Lesseps for putting forward the idea,” he said, referring to the diplomat who masterminded the waterway dug over a decade between 1859 to 1869.

But he insisted it was thanks to the “genius” of the Egyptian people that the project really came to life.

“It was a miracle by all accounts to excavate a 164-kilometre-long canal in 10 years with rudimentary tools,” he said.

“A quarter of Egyptians took part in the excavations, that was about a million citizens out of the population of 4.5 million people at that time.” 

“Between 100,000 to 120,000 died,” Rabie added, highlighting that many succumbed to disease. 

In 2015, Egyptians threw their support behind President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s project to expand the canal, “purchasing 64 billion Egyptian pounds of investment certificates within eight days”.

Thanks to that project, transit time has now been cut from 22 to 11 hours, and the number of vessels crossing daily has increased from an average of 40-45 to 60-65 giant tankers, he said.

Nowadays, container ships account for more than half of the canal’s total traffic, with some of them being among the largest in the world reaching a capacity of up to 23,000 TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit). 

Giant oil tankers carrying more than 200,000 tonnes can now transit through the canal as well. 

Authorities have also sought to develop the Sinai Peninsula, which lies on the eastern edge of the canal.

“We have also dug six tunnels under the Suez Canal to facilitate movement crossing to and from the Sinai,” Rabie said. 

“Before we used to talk about developing the Sinai peninsula without any serious decisions having been taken. Now access is easy for people and investors.” 

Egypt is also developing a free-zone trade hub spanning 461 square kilometres (178 square miles) known as “the Suez Canal Economic Zone”. 

“Many projects exist along the banks,” said Rabie, citing ship supply zones, pharmaceutical factories and car assembly plants. 

He maintained also that the canal “is perfectly secured” under the command of the Egyptian armed forces. 

Ongoing fighting between the Egyptian army against the Islamist insurgents in North Sinai “has not affected” the canal or trade, he stressed.

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Cameroon presidency announces February 9 for parliamentary polls

Opposition parties reacting cautiously to the decree, asking for a reform of the electoral code

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cameroon announces parliamentary election date

Cameroon’s presidency announced Sunday that parliamentary elections will be held on February 9, in the latest sign that veteran ruler Paul Biya is seeking to end a long-running political crisis.

Opposition parties reacted cautiously to the presidential decree, with one spokesman urging a reform of the electoral code before the vote. The last parliamentary elections took place in 2013 for a mandate of five years, but President Biya, who has ruled Cameroon for 37 years, has twice postponed fresh polls.

Biya, 86, was re-elected last year, but the result was contested by his main opposition rival in the vote, Maurice Kamto of the Movement for the Rebirth of Cameroon (MRC). The 65-year-old Kamto was jailed in January after his party staged several peaceful marches challenging that result.

Released in October, he has since tried three times to hold marches but was denied permission each time.

cameroon announces parliamentary election date
President Paul Biya waves as he arrives to vote at a polling station in Yaounde on September 30, 2013, for legislative and local polls set to shore up the strong parliamentary majority of the President’s ruling party. Since winning a presidential election in 1984, Biya, aged 80, has led with extensive powers and has taken steps to prolong his term in office. AFP PHOTO / REINNIER KAZE (Photo by Reinnier KAZE / AFP)

The West African country was for years considered relatively stable, but it has been shaken by a two-year-old separatist uprising in the west as well as attacks by the jihadist group Boko Haram in the north.

Biya, under international pressure, held a national peace dialogue last month during which he announced the release of 333 detainees linked to the separatist crisis. He also ordered the release of 102 opposition activists arrested in 2018 during protests over his re-election.

Contacted by journalists, MRC general secretary Christopher Ndong said the party needed time to evaluate the news of fresh elections before responding. “We have asked that certain preconditions be met, such as the revision of the electoral code,” he said.

The main opposition party in parliament is still the Social Democratic Front (SDF), even though its candidate in last year’s presidential election garnered only 3.35 per cent of the vote, coming in fourth.

The party was not immediately willing to say whether it would take part in next year’s elections. Late last month, Washington announced it was stripping Cameroon of its preferential trade status because of its poor rights record.

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Guinea announces date for parliamentary elections

At least 16 civilians and a police officer have been killed in bloody clashes

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Guinea Bissau electoral commission president Pedro Sambu speaks at a polling station

Guinea’s electoral commission has announced a long-delayed parliamentary election will be held in February next year, with tensions high after deadly clashes during opposition protests.

The West African nation has been shaken by violence during weeks of demonstrations over opposition suspicions that President Alpha Conde is seeking to prolong his rule. 

The head of the country’s electoral commission, Amadou Salif Kebe, said in a statement on Saturday that a parliamentary election would go ahead on February 16, 2020. But uncertainty remained over whether the poll would go ahead on that date after previous delays and lingering concerns over the electoral roll.

In September the commission head had proposed the parliamentary vote be held on December 28, a date the opposition condemned as unrealistic and in the interest of Conde seeking a constitutionally-banned third term in office next year. 

The International Organisation of Francophonie, which is helping implement recommendations for auditing the electoral roll, said the December 28 date needed “to be reconsidered”. The current parliament started its five-year term in January 2014 and an election had been due in late 2018 or earlier this year.

But the vote was delayed after heated debates between the government and opposition. In January Conde extended the current parliament’s term indefinitely. The electoral commission said on Saturday it had unanimously approved the February date.

Commission head Salif Kebe said a review of the electoral roll had begun and the results were “very comforting”. Conde, 81, became Guinea’s first democratically-elected president in 2010, but critics say his rule has been marred by a growing crackdown on dissent.

The president, whose second term ends next year, launched constitutional consultations in September, saying the former French colony’s basic law “concentrates corporate interests” and needed reforms. The opposition, fearing the president will try to push through an amendment allowing him to seek a third term, took to the streets.

At least 16 civilians and a police officer have been killed in bloody clashes since the protests began in mid-October, according to the opposition, with dozens injured and arrested. Conde has neither confirmed nor denied his intention to seek a third term.

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