CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi on Wednesday named a controversial senior judge known for his deep hostility toward the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood as justice minister.
Ahmed el-Zind, the forceful chairman of the Judges Club, a powerful association of members of the judiciary, was sworn in before el-Sissi Wednesday. He has been an outspoken supporter of the 2013 military takeover that ousted the Islamist Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president who hails from the Brotherhood. El-Sissi, Egypt’s defense minister at the time, led Morsi’s ouster and was elected president last year.
As justice minister, el-Zind replaces Mahfouz Saber who quit last week in the face of an uproar over comments he made in a television interview. Saber said that the children of sanitary workers should not be allowed to be judges, who must come from an “appropriate” background.
El-Zind takes the key justice portfolio at a time when criticism is growing in Egypt and abroad of police abuses and the perceived but informal alliance between the large militarized police force, prosecutors and judges against critics of el-Sissi’s government, particularly Islamists. The latest wave of criticism followed the passing on Saturday of the death sentence against more than 100 Islamists, including Morsi, in two separate cases. They were the latest in a series of wholesale death sentences passed by judges since shortly after Morsi’s ouster, almost all against Islamists.
The choice of el-Zind suggests that there will be no let-up in the crackdown by el-Sissi’s government on members of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists, of whom thousands have been thrown in jail and hundreds killed since Morsi’s ouster.
Several hours after Morsi’s sentencing, three judges were gunned down in the restive northern Sinai Peninsula in what appeared to be a revenge killing. Earlier this month, a judge in Cairo who has been involved in high-profile Brotherhood-related cases escaped unharmed when his car was blown up outside his home. Policemen, like army troops, have also been a primary target for attacks blamed on Islamic militants.
The new justice minister personally takes credit for some of the controversy lately surrounding the Egyptian judiciary besides the mass death sentences. He has, for example, doggedly defended the decades-old practice of giving the children of judges and other members of the judiciary priority over others when they apply for jobs in the judiciary.
When asked in a TV interview about a Brotherhood protest in which images of some judges were burned, he said: “We (judges), on the soil of this nation, are masters, while others are slaves. We will burn the heart of anyone who burns a judge’s photograph.”
He has also called on Egypt’s wealthy to pay a special tax to bolster the police force’s security efforts.
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