The Egyptian government has summoned two leading reformist judges to a disciplinary hearing that could see them fired for alleging that last year's elections were fraudulent. The fate of the judges is seen as a key indicator of the state of Egypt's democratic reforms.

The two judges from Egypt's highest court of appeals, Hesham El-Bastawisy and Mahmoud Mekki, are facing disciplinary hearings for allegedly harming the reputation of the judiciary. But both judges see it as a thinly veiled effort to silence their criticism of the government.

In an interview with VOA, Judge Bastawisy said he sees the move to discipline and possibly fire him as evidence that the government is cracking down on advocates of reform.

He says anyone who talks about real reform in Egypt is turned into a defendant, especially if his words start to reach people.

The Justice Ministry has not issued any public statements on the matter, but ministry officials confirm to news agencies that a disciplinary hearing is scheduled. It is not clear when it will be held.

Both of the judges are deputy heads of Egypt's highest appeals court, the Court of Cassation.

Egypt's judges were responsible for overseeing last year's presidential and parliamentary elections, but they battled with the government over how much real authority they would have. Afterward, the Judges Club claimed there was significant electoral fraud, and accused some members of the judiciary of participating in it.

Judge Bastawisy says, "We call for their trial and holding them accountable for it, but unfortunately instead of trying those who committed the forgery and corruption, they are trying us for uncovering it."

The judiciary is seen as the only branch of Egypt's government with any real independence from President Hosni Mubarak, but human-rights groups say the judiciary is still subject to interference.

The battle for judicial independence in Egypt has not received as much international media attention as the street protests by other pro-democracy activists, but many Egyptian analysts see the issue as even more critical. It remains highly sensitive, though - so much so that one leading attorney and human-rights activist refused to speak on the record about it.

But Judge Bastawisy says the judges are getting lots of support.

He says not only judges are angry about this measure, it is the whole Egyptian nation. He says everyone is mad, and all the professional associations and civic groups know that the government's intention with this disciplinary hearing is silencing the judges and getting rid of anyone who calls for reform.

Earlier this month, the Judges Club refused to meet with the New York-based group Human Rights Watch. Club members said they were under intense government pressure to cancel the meeting.