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What They Are Saying Week of Dec. 15, 2005

December 15, 2005 By:
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Jackson Diehl

Excerpts from international writers with commentary on issues relating to the Middle East, Israel and world Jewry:

Plan at the Polls Worked Out Too Well: Egypt's Dictator Outwitted Himself

Columnist Jackson Diehl writes in The Washington Post (www.WashingtonPost.com) on Dec. 5 that the Egyptian government's election fraud backfired:

"Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a former general, practices politics with martial crudeness, so his latest scheme for thwarting the Bush administration's pro-democracy agenda wasn't hard to discern.

"Under pressure from Washington to hold free and fair elections for his formerly rubber-stamp parliament, Mubarak set out this fall to crush his secular and liberal opposition, which has been growing in strength all this year, while allowing the banned Muslim Brotherhood to nominate a limited number of candidates and campaign relatively freely. The goal was to eliminate all moderate opposition and present the United States with a choice between his continuing rule - and the eventual succession of his son Gamal - and an Islamic fundamentalist movement.

"In the first of three rounds of voting last month, the strategy played out beautifully in the Cairo district of Ayman Nour, the liberal democratic runner-up to Mubarak in September's unfree presidential election and the greatest potential threat to his son. The president's party nominated a former state security police officer against Nour; the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate cooperatively withdrew and endorsed Mubarak's man. Some 2,000 government supporters were then illegally registered in the district and, in defiance of a court order, bused in to vote against the local favorite. Nour was declared the loser, and last week the government resumed his criminal prosecution on trumped-up forgery charges.

"Yet as it turned out, Mubarak's plan worked too well. Egypt's democratic opposition was all but eliminated from parliament, but the Muslim Brotherhood trounced the government at the polls. In the first two rounds, 65 percent of its candidates were elected, compared with only 42 percent from Mubarak's National Democratic Party. Because the Islamists, in a tacit deal with the government, limited themselves to contesting fewer than one-third of the districts, Mubarak still holds a majority of the decided seats.

"But the Brotherhood's proportional victory nevertheless triggered panic in the state security apparatus. In the most recent three days of voting, security forces indulged in an orgy of fraud and thuggery in an attempt to prevent more losses - in full view of Egyptian and international observers, Western journalists and Arab satellite channels. More than 1,300 Brotherhood activists were arrested and at least three persons killed, in one case when security forces opened fire on people trying to vote.

"The results of this most squalid process are already in: The Muslim Brotherhood will hold at least 76, and as many as 100, seats in the Egyptian parliament, out of 454. Other opposition groups will be reduced to a couple of dozen.

"Mubarak's 24-year-old autocracy probably won't collapse anytime soon, but it has lost the support of most of the moderate Egyptians who hoped it would carry out a gradual political liberalization. That should force some hard decisions by the Bush administration, which also has banked on a regime-led reform; its characterization of the elections last week as 'an important step on Egypt's path toward democratic reform' was ludicrous, and indefensible.

"The administration should make clear, starting now, that it won't tolerate a future undemocratic transfer of power from Mubarak to his son, or anyone else. The United States should explicitly link the continuation of the billions of dollars in official aid that prop up his regime to steps toward the democratic election of his successor. If Egyptian political life is freed, there will be plenty of good candidates by 2011; like Ayman Nour, they just won't be members of Mubarak's parliament."

Overqualified, Underqualified: It's Tough to Find a Judge!

Author Hillel Halkin writes in The New York Sun (www.nysun.com) on Dec. 6 about a turbulent confirmation fight for the Israeli Supreme Court:

"George W. Bush is not the only politician having trouble these days in getting a Supreme Court nominee accepted. Israel's Minister of Justice Tsipi Livni is another.

"Of course, there are some major differences between Mr. Bush's and Ms. Livni's difficulties, starting with the nominee - in both cases, a woman - herself. Harriet Miers was, by all accounts, supremely underqualified to be a United States Supreme Court justice. Ruth Gavison, on the other hand, Justice Minister Livni's controversial candidate for a seat on Israel's High Court of Justice, would seem to be overqualified.

"Professor Gavison's views might be roughly classified as 'conservative,' although in the Israeli context that does not mean exactly what it does in the American one. Although she is not associated with the political right, she has consistently opposed the judicial activism of Israel's high court as manifested in the past two decades under the leadership of Chief Justice Aharon Barak. Barak … took a court that, until his long term at the head of it, sought to avoid hearing cases with highly political implications, and turned it into a body that now vies with Israel's Knesset in shaping social policy.

"Precisely the fact that Israel does not have a written constitution to set the boundaries between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government encouraged the Barak court to intervene in areas, as disparate as the regulations for conversion to Judaism and the route of Israel's West Bank security fence - that would not traditionally have been considered its domain. This is a tendency that Gavison has been sharply critical of.

"Chief Justice Barak, a political liberal in outlook, has a say in nominations to his court that Supreme Court judges in the United States do not have, since in Israel high court nominees need to be approved not by the Knesset, but by a nine member committee that includes three high court justices. And Barak has made it clear that he intends to vote against Gavison's nomination and to persuade his fellow committee members to do the same because, as he has put it, she would be coming to the court with a preconceived 'agenda' that would preclude objectivity on her part.

"And yet clearly, what bothers the chief justice is not that Ruth Gavison has an 'agenda,' but that the agenda she has is opposed to his own.

"And yet as much as one may sympathize with her belief that the courts of Israel should not aspire to be 'the supreme moral arbiter of society,' there is more to be said for a policy of judicial activism in Israel than in the United States. The lack of a constitution is just one reason for this. Israel's politics are a second.

"The Knesset's usual way of dealing with matters like civil liberties, synagogue-state relations, citizenship and marriage laws is either to leave them to be determined by administrative fiat, or to do nothing at all until they are thrown into the laps of the courts.

"Judicial activism in such a situation is as much a question of practical necessity as of legal philosophy.

"Gavison should be on Israel's court. Her voice deserves to be heard there. But until electoral reform in Israel produces a different kind of legislative branch, the country will have to keep looking toward the judicial one."

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