Loopholes in Justice

29 November 2022

Reported by: Mohammad Abu Zaid
In the winter of 2017, Mahmoud Al-Amir, a law graduate, took a train from the governorate of Asyut to Cairo to apply for the job of Assistant Prosecutor, which was advertised in the month of February. He was one of more than ten thousand young applicants who gathered before Egypt’s High Court building to retrieve their application forms for the job.

The year before that Mahmoud had graduated with honors from the Faculty of Law in Asyut University, ranking among the top ten of his class. He says: “I worked very hard for four years to graduate top of my class hoping to get a job in the Public Prosecutor’s Office.”

He passed all the required tests, paid the 200 Egyptian pounds application fee, sat for a personal interview and finally passed all security background checks that are routine for job applicants in this sector. Later, he was shocked to learn that his name was not among the newly appointed Assistant Prosecutors listed in the Presidential Decree no. 166 of the year 2017.

“My family and I were beyond shocked!”
Mahmoud is one of thousands of Egyptians who were excluded from being appointed in the Public Prosecutor’s Office for unknown reasons. This violates the Egyptian Constitution of the year 2014, in which Article (9) stipulates that “The state ensures equal opportunity for all citizens without discrimination,” and Article (14) which stipulates that “Public posts are a right for citizens on the basis of merit, with no favouritism or interference.”

Many Egyptians lost their chance to be appointed as the system favours instead the sons and daughters of judges. This investigation found that between the years 2012 and 2021, 27% of those appointments were won by the children and relatives of serving or retired judges. Upon reviewing the names of appointees throughout this period, and excluding a margin of error, it was found that out of 3833 newly appointed Assistant Prosecutors, 1035 positions went to the children or relatives of judges.

Personal Interview
Mahmoud says that he passed all preliminary tests and was given a date to sit for a “personal interview” in front of a judiciary committee called the “Committee of Seven.”

Advocate Hazem Sabri, who specializes in cases of appointment exclusion in judicial entities, says that “the ‘Committee of Seven’ is made up of the Public Prosecutor, the Chief of the Supreme Judicial Court and the Court of Cassation, the Chiefs of Alexandria and Tanta’s Courts of Appeal and the three most senior counsellors in the Court of Cassation.

On the day of the interview, Mahmoud Al-Amir wore his black suit and a necktie which he bought especially for the occasion and sat down waiting alongside 15 other applicants, until they were called into a dimly-lit room.

The applicants sat on a single row of chairs before a table with the 7 judges who asked the same legal question which the applicants took turns in answering. The whole process did not exceed 2-3 minutes and each candidate had only a few seconds to speak.

Advocate Sabri criticised the absence of “clear criteria” upon which these interviews are based, adding that some highly qualified applicants were excluded while others with lower GPAs were chosen for the interviews.

Advocate Ghallab Hattab, who specializes in Constitutional and Cassation Courts and cases of appointment exclusion, criticises the system upon which these interviews are conducted and their “ridiculously irrational” timeframe. He states that “We have to take into account the sudden nature of these questions. You cannot properly evaluate several applicants with different levels of ability and potentials within a few seconds.”

Hattab believes that the current interview committee is not qualified enough to evaluate these applicants, as they are neither university professors nor trained psychologists. He adds that each of these candidates had already passed at least 20 written and oral exams while they were studying at the university, which is a fair indicator of their academic high achievement.

Psychological Testing (Stage of Succession)
Mahmoud Al-Amir says that, based on the personal interview and the committee’s report, the candidates are shortlisted and begin the third stage of the application process which is the “psychological test.” This test is carried out by two neurologists who ask applicants questions like why they decided to study law or why they want to become judges…etc.

He adds that only a small number of applicants reach this stage as the tests become more selective and “favouritism” or interference on behalf of a candidate known locally as “wasta” or “special connections” weighs heavily to exclude many of the applicants for the sake of favouring candidates who are related to judges and counsellors. Upon our examination of 3833 names listed in Presidential decrees as new appointees to serve in the Public Prosecutor’s Office between 2012 and 2021, we found that 1035 or 27% of them were relatives of judges and counsellors.

It is also worth mentioning that the reporter of this investigation has spent months examining only the first-degree relatives of applicants such as fathers, mothers, siblings and uncles, in order to verify their relationship with judges and counsellors.

The investigation also found that the year 2021 witnessed a peak in the percentage of appointments of judges relatives, reaching 34.1%, while the year 2015 witnessed the highest number of appointments which reached 182 newly appointed Assistant Prosecutors.

Ragab Ezzedine, a researcher at the Egyptian Institute For Studies, believes that the “succession” aspect in the judicial appointments is prevalent and deeply rooted in the minds of a vast majority of judges, to the extent that it is openly and directly discussed.

Ezzedine cites a 2018 study which included a statement made by the former Minister of Justice, Ahmad Al-Zand saying that “the appointment of the children of judges shall remain in effect and no force in Egypt will stand in the way of this holy control of the judiciary system.”

Legal researcher, Minna Omar, says that the inheritance of official positions or succession aspect prevalent in the appointments process, does not stem merely from the desire of judges to secure jobs for their children and relatives, but also expresses a sense of superiority and elitism which fuels their bias to keep their profession as selective as possible.
In her report which was published on the Legal Agenda website in 2014, Minna states that succession in the judicial system began in the mid-2000s when former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak decided to use the judges’ desire to appoint their relatives as a means to clamp down on the “Independence Movement” (that is seen as non conforming to the wishes of the state) that had taken over the leadership of the Egyptian Judges’ Club (or union) between 2001 and 2009.

According to Minna, in response to the Club’s objections to the 2006 amendments of the Judicial Authority Law and the 2005 parliamentary elections rigging, Mubarak’s regime decided to add a minimum rating of “Good” instead of “Satisfactory”, as a condition for any appointment in the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

She adds that Mubarak’s strategy paid off, and angered the judges who blamed the “Independence Movement” for this change that hurt their interests. This paved the way, during the Club’s 2009 elections, for the victory of the conservative leaning Counsellor Ahmad Al-Zand, who was known for his open support for hereditary access to the bar during his first term.

Security Checks
According to Mahmoud Al-Amir, after passing the psychological test, a candidate’s file is then sent to the respective Security Directorates. There, a criminal background check gets carried out, not only for the candidates themselves, but also for their first, second and third degree relatives. After that, Egypt’s National Security Agency looks into the political affiliations and tendencies of the candidate’s family members.

Advocate Ghallab Hattab says that widening the criminal background checks beyond immediate family members like fathers, mothers and siblings may be detrimental to many candidates. He adds that the Egyptian Council of State has already issued several decisions stipulating that security checks remain within the realm of immediate rather than extended family members like uncles, aunts and cousins.

Finally, A Rejection
After passing all the aforementioned stages of the selection process, Mahmoud Al-Amir was shocked to learn that he was not chosen to serve at the Public Prosecutor’s Office and that the names of other “less qualified applicants,” according to Al-Amir, have made it to the list of new appointees.
Mahmoud recalls that when the results of the selection process had been announced during the holy month of Ramadan, he was unable to continue fasting that day due to the shock he suffered as a result of being rejected. When he filed a grievance case, enquiring about the reason behind the decision to turn down his application, the supervising committee said that he “had not passed the personal interview.”

This investigation came across seven other cases similar to that of Mahmoud, all of which were excluded from appointment in any judicial entities such as the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the Council of State, the State Lawsuits Authority…etc., for not passing the personal interview, despite the fact that those candidates had a “Good” and “Very Good” academic ratings.

Hattab also states that the supervising committee always refuses to provide rejected applicants or their lawyers with the minutes of the interview, stating that all records have been destroyed and discarded, despite the fact that lawyers can present their grievances within 60 days of announcing the new appointments.

He adds that a committee may also claim that more than one applicant is contesting and requesting the minutes of the same interview, in which case the minutes cannot be given to one applicant’s lawyer and not the others. Hattab says that they should “simply make five or six copies of the interview’s minutes, have them certified, and then give a copy to each of the appealing applicants! Committees still refuse to cooperate, but due to some pressure and perseverance, they may acquies to provide a failed applicant with an official statement only.”

Hattab adds that within the past four years, the Egyptian Council of State added another criterion that stands in favour of the failed applicants if they are one of the top ten graduates in their class whether they studied law and Sharia or law only. All other grievances are overlooked even if the appealing applicant graduated with honours and with an academic rating of “Excellent.”

Mahmoud Al-Amir:

“I will not file a lawsuit as nobody has ever won them. As for their response to the grievances we filed, well, they appointed ten from Asyut University, four of whom were children of judges and six were specialist police officers.