Egypt president, judges compromising on reform law

AP News
Posted: Apr 28, 2013 4:02 PM
Egypt president, judges compromising on reform law

CAIRO (AP) — The Egyptian president's office indicated Sunday a compromise has been reached with the judiciary to defuse an uproar over a proposed law that would have forced out thousands of the country's most senior judges.

Just three days earlier, the country's Islamist-led parliament pushed ahead with the disputed bill that would have lowered the retirement age for judges from 70 to 60. That would affect nearly a quarter of Egypt's 13,000 judges and prosecution officials.

The draft also would have barred the courts from reviewing or overturning presidential decrees issued by the president late last year, including his unilateral appointment of a new top prosecutor.

The crisis over the judiciary is a reflection of the deep polarization that has split the country over the rule of Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood party. Morsi has been in a power struggle with the judiciary since his June election.

In an attempt to resolve the situation, Morsi met Sunday with five top judges. A statement from the president's office after the meeting said Morsi will launch a conference this week to work out a compromise with judges regarding laws that affect the judiciary.

"The president said he will personally adopt all the conclusions of the conference for proposals of bills in order to submit them to the legislative council," the statement said.

After the meeting, opponents of the proposed law canceled protests set for Monday.

The president's allies say the courts are filled with loyalists of the deposed regime of Hosni Mubarak. The opposition accuses Morsi's backers of calling for reform of the judiciary as a cover to install their own supporters.

A protest by opponents and supporters of the bill led to street clashes in the capital nine days ago, and thousands of judges met last week to demand international organizations investigate the crisis. The dispute also prompted the resignations of top aides and advisers to the presidency.

The announcement by the president's office effectively shelves the law that was under discussion by lawmakers. A new proposal for a judicial reform law will likely first be agreed upon by Morsi and judges, and then be sent to the parliament.

Morsi is also facing divisions within the country's battered police force.

Dozens of Egyptian police officers disobeyed orders Sunday and stormed a superior's office in the capital, shut down a security directorate in the north and went on strike in the south.

It was the year's third wave of strikes by police, who demand incentives like better wages, greater firepower and more benefits.

The police force has not recovered from the days of the 2011 uprising that deposed Mubarak. His police were a symbol of the regime's unchecked powers and abuses, and they were forced from the streets in the early stages of the revolt by angry protesters.

The Interior Ministry, which oversees police in Egypt, relies on low-ranking police to protect government buildings. Hundreds of policemen have been wounded this year and several have been killed in anti-government protests.

Dozens of low-ranking officers stormed the office of the deputy interior minister in charge of health care for police. His office is inside the main police hospital in Cairo's Nileside neighborhood of Agouza. They said promises of better health care have gone unfulfilled.

In the south, police at five stations in the province of Assuit went on strike, charging that the government did not fulfill any of their demands.

In the Nile Delta province of Kafr el-Sheikh, police locked the gate to the security division with chains, according to security officials and state media reports.

Strikes also spread north of Cairo to Sharqiya and the Suez Canal city of Ismailiya.

Some are also calling for the dismissal of Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim. The minister met with some of the protesting policemen Sunday.

Others are protesting alleged attempts by the powerful Muslim Brotherhood to try to control the force, a charge the Islamist group denies. For decades, Egypt's police aggressively targeted the Brotherhood, and Morsi himself was imprisoned under Mubarak.

There are concerns that a recent decision to purchase 100,000 new 9mm pistols for police could lead to an even greater use of excessive force against unarmed protesters and civilians.

Officer Mohammed Mustafa was among those who stormed the deputy minister's office in Cairo on Sunday. He told The Associated Press that the group ended its sit-in after superiors vowed to look into their demands.

Though his salary has increased by almost three-fold following the uprising, Mustafa said he still earns only $185 a month. After 15 years on the job, low-ranking officers receive just $2,000 in compensation when they retire.

"Morsi, before he was president, promised that he would solve the problems of the police force," he said. "We want action, not words."


AP writer Mamdouh Thabet contributed to this report from Assiut, Egypt.