PROFILE: Egypt's new Justice Minister Ahmed al-Zend

#EgyptTurmoil

Some analysts expect Egypt's new justice minister to speed up the crackdown on opposition to the Sisi government

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi shakes hands with Egypt' s new justice minister Ahmed al-Zend during his swearing in ceremony in Cairo on 20 May (AFP)
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Wednesday 20 May 2015 21:05 UTC
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Although Egypt's last justice minister resigned over accusations of elitism, his predecessor, appointed on Wednesday, also has a reputation for making inflammatory statements.

Ahmed el-Zend, head of the influential Egyptian Judges Club, will replace Mahfouz Saber who stepped down earlier this month after declaring that sons of garbage collectors could not become judges.

But Zend has also made his own provocative comments over the years. 

“We [judges] are the masters and the rest are the slaves,” Zend told TV host Mostafa Okasha during an interview in 2014. 

“Whatever represents an attack on the judiciary’s prestige, dignity and reverence will not pass lightly," Zend told Okasha.

"Whoever burns a judge’s photo will have his heart burned out; his memory and shadow will be banished from Egypt.”

However, according to al-Watan Newspaper, Zend is not only known to oppose the appointment of the sons of rubbish collectors as judges, but he is also a passionate advocate of passing on judicial positions to the sons of judges.

During a 2012 conference of the Judges’ Club - an elite Egyptian social club - Zend, according to the report in al-Watan, said: “We will not stop appointing sons of judges whether people like it or not. Sons of judges will be appointed every year, and there isn’t a power in Egypt that can stop this ‘holy march’ to the judiciary”. 

Zend was born in 1946 in Damento, a small village outside of Tanta, a densely populated city north of Cairo.

His father worked as the village’s imam and headed its agricultural association, reported Almasry Alyoum.

Zend graduated from al-Azhar University in 1970 with a degree in Islamic Law. As well as becoming a public prosecutor, he went on to hold various judicial positions, specifically in Aswan and Dakahlia.

He served as a member of the board of directors for the Judges' Club during the 1980s, after which Zend became heavily involved in establishing Judges' Club in his hometown of Tanta.

Zend then moved to the UAE where he worked as head of the Sharia Courts in Ras al-Khaima from 1991 to 1993, and then as a legal advisor to the Crown Prince of the Ras al-Khaimah until 1996, reported Almasry Alyoum.

Upon his return to Egypt, he was appointed head of the Tanta Sports Club, a position he held between 2001 and 2004. He was then appointed as the first president for Egypt’s Sports' Court, which had an important role to play in resolving several crises, according to Almasry Alyoum.

Finally, Zend was appointed as head of the Cairo Court of Appeals, a position he remained in until his appointment as head of the Judges' Club in 2009, and then as minister.

Stalwart against the oppostion

He is known for his strong opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood and frequently came into conflict with the government of Mohamed Morsi's Brotherhood-linked Freedom and Justice Party.

In response to criticism from Morsi over the judiciary's decision to acquit former president Hosni Mubarak and his sons on corruption charges in 2012, he delivered a withering put down of the Brotherhood.

“You did not inherit Egypt from your mothers and fathers,” he said, according to a 2012 Associated Press report

“We will never allow this legislature to be a thorn in Egypt’s side.”

Earlier that year however, Morsi was recorded in a television interview praising Zend and the Judges' Club for their role in balancing the power in Egypt and standing up against electoral fraud in 2005.

Commenting on the interview, Egyptian columnist Rana Allam told MEE: "These statements were early on during Morsi’s presidency when people were silent, including Zend, who wasn't become vocal until after the constitutioanl declaration."

"At that time, Morsi gave many statements trying to woo the judiciary, the armed forces and other figures like Zend," she told MEE.

"They [the Brotherhood] wanted the support of the rest of the government because they knew they couldn’t handle what is known as the deep state without the help of former NDP members and old regime figures," added Allam. 

Egypt’s new justice minister is also known for his rejection of calls to reform the judiciary after accusations of corruption within the body.

While he stood against the judiciary reform movement aiming to eliminate corruption during Mubarak’s era, he was accused of being involved in a huge corruption scandal when al-Ahram Newspapers published official documents in a report in September 2014.

Al-Ahram reported that The Judge’s Club, which Zend was heading at the time, had sold a public plot of land – on which a public library was to be built - to one of his relatives at less than half the market price.

Zend is also known for his allegiance to Mubarak and the Armed Forces which Allam described as “non-questionable” in an op-ed published Wednesday in the Daily News Egypt. 

He reportedly criticised judges who joined the protests in 2011, saying: “These judges do not represent the judiciary. Judges should not join the commons or the mob”.

But according to Allam, Zend retracted his statements after Mubarak was ousted in February 2011 and tried to appear sided with the revolutionaries and the SCAF, who were ruling the country at the time, she said.

To many Egyptians, appointing Zend is a strong statement against the opposition.

“If anyone could stop public outrage against the justice system in Egypt, Zend is the best candidate to eliminate the opposition,” wrote Allam in her piece.

"The new appointment aims to speed up trials of opposition members, specifically from Brotherhood, and to purge the judiciary of any opponents to the Sisi government," reported al-Mesriyoon Newspaper, a paper known for siding with Egypt's oppostion. 

“It is also a message of defiance to the global community, after several countries and human rights organisations have issued statements criticising the Egyptian judiciary as biased and politicised," wrote the paper. 

Some welcome appointment

Despite the pessimism of many analysts, several political figures have welcomed the appointment. 

Yehia Qadri, deputy head of the Egyptian National Movement Party founded by Mubarak-era prime minister and former presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq told Ahram Online he believes El-Zend's selection for the post is the right one.

At the same time, former MP Mohamed Abu Hamed congratulated Zend through his twitter account. 

"Sincere congratulations from the heart to his Excellency Judge Ahmed El-Zend , the new minister of justice," he said.

Head of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party Abdel-Ghaffar Shoukr also welcomed the new justice minister saying he thought it was better to choose a judge who is not involved in disagreements inside the community of judges, reported Al-Ahram Online.