The Egyptian judiciary is facing enormous challenges and hardships while striving to perform its essential role, not only as a judicial institution, but also as a constitutional authority standing alongside the executive and legislative branches. Its difficulties can be seen in a range of problems with which it has been struggling both before and since the outbreak of the revolution in January 2011.
The first set of problems pertains to the work of the judiciary as a professional institution, and it is most clearly visible in the process of recruiting new judges. The selection process is characterized by favoritism and nepotism rather than equal opportunity based on merit. It is important to note that such cronyism is not unique to judicial institutions, but is a pervasive aspect of the Egyptian political and administrative system as a whole. Another challenge is that of “slow justice” and inefficiency. In the Egyptian courts, there are currently nearly 20 million cases awaiting adjudication, while the number of judges is less than 9,000. The tremendous amount of legislation in Egypt is also a major obstacle for maintaining justice. Officially, there are about 120,000 laws in effect. This creates enormous difficulties for judges and citizens as they deal with a legal process that is complicated by overlapping jurisdictions as well as ambiguity resulting from poorly drafted legislation.
Another set of problems relates to the independence of the judiciary. For decades, the Egyptian judiciary has been struggling to achieve full independence from the executive branch. Examples of executive interference are many, including the authority of the president to appoint the heads of judicial institutions without regard for the principle of seniority, which is a longstanding tradition in the judiciary, as well as the wide range of authorities granted to the presidentially-appointed minister of justice. The minister has the power to...