Judges from one of the Egyptian judiciary's three main branches voted Saturday to defy a newly adopted and widely disputed law giving the president a degree of control over the judiciary, nominating as head of their branch a judge who ruled against a government decision to surrender two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.
State Council judges, who rule on disputes with the government, voted overwhelmingly to put forward judge Yahya Dakroury, their most senior, as their nominee to head their branch. The move clashes with the new law that stipulates that each judiciary branch nominate three of its seven most senior judges to the president to choose one to head each of the three branches.
The judiciary's two other branches — the court of cassation and government lawyers — already have complied with the new law, adopted by parliament and ratified by the president last month with uncustomary speed. Many judges see the law as an infringement of the judiciary's independence and a violation of the principle of the separation of government branches.
Before the new law came into effect, each branch of the judiciary nominated their most senior judge to head their branch, with the president's ratification a foregone conclusion.
President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi will now have to either ratify Dakroury's nomination to avoid a confrontation with the powerful State Council or independently name one of the most senior judges from that branch as its head.
Dakroury's ruling last year on the fate of the two islands went against the government's stated position that Tiran and Sanafir, at the mouth of the Red Sea's Gulf of Aqaba, belonged to Saudi Arabia but were placed under Egyptian control in the 1950s to protect them against a perceived threat from Israel.
His ruling was upheld in January by a higher court, which declared as unconstitutional an Egyptian-Saudi agreement signed in April 2016 to cede control over the islands to Riyadh.
El-Sissi last month said the executive branch has nothing more to do with or say about the agreement, saying its fate was now in the hands of the judiciary and parliament, a 596-seat chamber packed with his supporters.