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Egyptian Judges Issue Election Warning


Over 1,000 Egyptian judges say they won't supervise upcoming elections unless they are given more independence and control.

Assem Abdel Gabar, vice president of Egypt's Court of Cassation, one of the country's top courts, was at the meeting where the judges made their stand.

"Now we're trying to make our authority, the judicial authority, independent," he said. "[There are] some problems with independence. The old law controls our mission, and we try to make modifications to this law. These modifications makes us more independent against the executive authority and the legislative authority."

Egypt will hold its first multi-candidate presidential elections in September, if a constitutional amendment proposed by President Hosni Mubarak is approved.

Judges began supervising polls in Egypt in 2000. But they say they constantly had to deal with interference by police and government officials.

Mohamed Abdel Moneim Said is the head of the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. He says it would be better if judges were given full oversight of the voting.

"The judges already supervised the last elections in the year 2000. They supervised the actual ballots and they succeeded in making it clean," he said. "However many other requirements for people to get to the ballot box [were] not under their supervision."

Mr. Abdel Gabar and his colleagues want parliament to change laws regulating the authority of judges and their roles in supervising elections. They also want a broader role in the entire voting process, from drawing up lists and announcing results. And they want independence from the ministry of justice and interior.

Judges are widely regarded as a bastion of freedom and integrity in Egypt. On several occasions, higher courts have struck down laws issued by the executive that they viewed as unconstitutional.

The judges' demands come after weeks of protests by different groups in Egypt. Students, Islamists, human rights groups and opposition parties have all staged demonstrations in the last month calling for more political reform.

The general association of Egypt's Judges plan to hold an even larger meeting in May to decide on their next step. Some judges have said they will boycott the elections altogether if their demands aren't met.

There has been no response from the government to the judges' statement.

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