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Egypt’s justice minister Ahmad Mekki quits over draft law

Resignation comes ahead of planned cabinet shake-up

Gulf News

Cairo: Egyptian Justice Minister Ahmad Mekki resigned on Sunday, reported state television, in protest against an Islamist-backed draft law allegedly designed to remove dissenting judges.

Mekki, a former judge, officially presented his resignation to Prime Minister Hesham Qandil, the report added.

His resignation comes a day after Islamist President Mohammad Mursi said he would carry out a cabinet shake-up.

Local newspapers on Sunday speculated that Mekki would be replaced with Tala’at Abdullah, whom Mursi controversially named public prosecutor in November.

Last week, Mekki had criticised the draft law, which proposes reducing judges’ retirement age to 65 instead of 70, sparking a judicial outcry. The law was proposed by Al Wasat, an Islamist party closely allied with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Mekki also criticised a protest held on Friday by Mursi’s supporters outside the Supreme Court in Cairo, demanding a “purge” of the judiciary. The protesters called for Mekki’s sacking and accused judges of being biased to the regime of ousted president Hosni Mubarak.

Insulted at protesters’ demand

“Mekki felt insulted after some demonstrators demanded his sacking”, the semi-official newspaper Al Ahram quoted what it called a source close to the outgoing minister as saying. “He also expressed to the prime minister his dismay and that of the judges at accusations levelled by Islamist figures at the judiciary without proof.”

Mekki, 74, was picked to head the justice ministry in August last year.

The country’s highest judicial body, the Supreme Judicial Council, described Friday’s protests against the judiciary as an “unprecedented grave insult”.

The secular-minded opposition accuses the Muslim Brotherhood of trying to dominate the judiciary as part of an alleged plan to tighten hold on state institutions.

The Judges’ Club, Egypt’s independent judicial union, is due to hold a crisis meeting to discuss taking “escalatory measures”, including the possibility of closing courts, said judicial sources.

Mursi’s relations with the judiciary have been tense since he took office nine months ago due to presidential decrees which his critics say violate the judiciary’s independence.