Egypt appoints outspoken Brotherhood critic as new justice minister

Friday 15/05/2015
Known for his anti-Islamist views

CAIRO - Egypt swore in a new justice minister Wednesday whom critics accuse of "elitism" and who is known for his anti-Islamist views, nine days after his predecessor resigned over controversial comments.

"Ahmed al-Zind was sworn in in front of the president and in the presence of the prime minister," a statement from President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's office said.

Zind takes over from Mahfouz Saber, whose resignation was announced on May 11 after he said that becoming a judge was too lofty an ambition for the sons of cleaners.

Zind has never concealed his animosity towards Islamists and the 2011 uprising that ousted ex-president Hosni Mubarak.

Under Mubarak, he openly supported him and opposed a judges movement that called for judicial independence and reform.

Zind also fervently opposed Mohamed Morsi, the one-year president who rose from the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood and was ousted in 2013 by then army chief Sisi.

Saber's remarks that led to his resignation were not the first from the judiciary to cause controversy in a country where government figures show at least 26 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

Zind is no different from his predecessor, one legal expert said, describing Zind as "elitist".

"They appointed someone who shares the same ideas and line of thought, yet more extreme," Adel Ramadan of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights said.

"Zind managed to secure several social privileges for judges; he seeks to sustain these privileges, which makes him popular in judicial circles," Ramadan added.

Last year, 138 prosecution service applicants were turned down because their fathers had not obtained university degrees.

"The appointment of judges' sons will continue from year to year -- no force in Egypt can stop this sacred advancement," the website of state-run Al-Ahram newspaper quoted Zind as saying at a 2012 conference.

In a January 2014 televised interview to private channel Al-Faraeen, Zind said: "On the land of this homeland, we are the lords, and others are slaves."

This comment was an answer to a question about plans by Muslim Brotherhood activists to burn pictures of judges in public squares.

"The heart and memory of one who burns a judge's picture will be burnt off the face of the land of Egypt," he added.

Mohamed Soliman of the liberal Al-Dostour party fears that the new minister could use his position to settle political scores.

"The justice minister is supposed to be neutral, but we have a judge who openly opposes the January 25 forces, the Islamists and pro-democracy ministers in cabinet," Soliman said of Zind.

The term January 25 forces refers to those who took part in the 2011 uprising that led to Mubarak standing down the following month.

"He could remove several judges to settle political or personal scores," Soliman added.

Since Sisi toppled Morsi, international human rights advocates have accused the authorities of using the judiciary in their bloody crackdown on the Islamist's supporters.

The judiciary has handed down harsh verdicts against members of the political opposition, with hundreds of Islamists sentenced to death over violent protests.

On Saturday, Morsi himself was sentenced to death along with 100 others for their role in a mass jailbreak during the anti-Mubarak uprising.

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