One of the most remarkable new phenomena to appear on Egypt’s political scene since the revolution has been a radical decentralization of decision making. This is an entirely new characteristic of the Egyptian political scene, brought about by a revolution that liberated politics from the strictures of authoritarianism. Over the course of this decentralizing process, we are seeing Egypt’s administrative judiciary emerge as one of the most dynamic new players, to such an extent that this supposedly neutral court system can now be considered one of Egypt’s “ruling powers.”
Before proceeding with an analysis of the administrative judiciary’s evolving and increasingly political role in the post-revolutionary period, it is important to clarify the structure of the Egyptian judiciary, which is not a single institution but comprises three separate branches: the general judiciary, which considers all kinds of cases; the administrative judiciary, or the State Council, which handles disputes involving state administrative bodies; and the Supreme Constitutional Court, which holds “absolute jurisdiction” on constitutional disputes and issues.
The emergence of the State Council as a powerful political actor in the post-revolutionary period is illustrated by a series of significant court rulings over the past year and a half. Immediately after the revolution in February 2011, the State Council took its first step into the post-Mubarak political arena by ordering the dissolution of the former ruling National Democratic Party. Also, the Administrative Court ruled to dissolve all of Egypt’s local councils, which were staffed almost entirely by NDP members. Later, a ruling to allow the Egyptians living abroad to vote in all elections and public referenda was issued. Early in April, the State Council decided on the critical issue of the Constituent Assembly —which was formed by the Parliament in March and tasked with writing the new constitution — by dissolving it and, moreover, ordered that the assembly be formed by members from outside the Parliament.
I fully endorse the outcome of these judicial decisions, as they reflect number of the demands of the revolution; however, I question the mechanism by which these desirable results have been achieved. Specifically, I take issue with the State Council’s involvement in purely political issues, which has set the stage for the politicization of the administrative judiciary, a trend that could undermine Egypt’s democratic transition. The politicization of the State Council can be traced to the political vacuum that arose after Mubarak’s removal. Although the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces was delegated executive authority during the interim period, the military council — with its political ineptitude and haphazard decision making — was incapable of filling this void. The SCAF has been slow to make decisions to advance the revolution’s objectives, and in many cases has failed to act at all. Thus, the political vacuum remained wide open, enabling the State Council to take on an increasingly assertive and political role amid the SCAF’s disorganized decision making.
By Yussef Afuf
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