Last Wednesday, Counselor Paul Fahmy Iskandar was sworn in before Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi as head of the Supreme Constitutional Court, the country’s highest judicial body.
Some media outlets described Fahmy’s appointment as “historic” as he was the first Christian judge to take this high position. But many of them neglected to mention that his appointment represents a continuation of Sisi’s approach to ignoring the stable rule of seniority in appointing the new head of the Supreme Constitutional Court, as Iskandar is now the fourth oldest court judge.
Who is Paul Fahmy Iskander?
Counselor Paul Fahmy Iskander was born in Cairo in 1957, graduated from the Faculty of Law at Cairo University in 1977, and obtained a diploma from the Atlanta Research Institute in the United States in judicial administration in 1994. He also received a training course from the American University in Cairo in 1999.
Fahmy began his work in the judiciary as an assistant to the Public Prosecution in 1978, and was promoted in the prosecution service until he was appointed a Public Prosecutor in 1980. In 1995 he became a public defender at the Public Prosecution. In 1997, Iskandar was appointed as an advisor to the Court of Appeal, and in 2001 he was promoted to become the Head of the Court of Appeal, a position he held for nine consecutive years. In 2010, Boulos Fahmy became Vice-President of the Supreme Constitutional Court, before leaving this position in 2012, following the amendment of the law regulating the work of the court in accordance with the 2012 Constitution, which reduced the number of its members from 18 to 11, which resulted in the departure of seven of the court’s newest members.
After that, Fahmy returned to work as head of one of the departments of the Court of Appeal, but no sooner had he served two years before he returned to his previous position as Vice-President of the Supreme Constitutional Court, according to a decision by the former interim president Adly Mansour, who headed the Constitutional Court before taking over the country temporarily after the military coup against President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. It is expected that Fahmy, who is 65-years-old, will continue as the head of the court during the next five years, according to the law that prevents the dismissal of the head of the court and its judges, and sets their retirement age at 70.
The gravity of the position
Under the Egyptian Constitution, the Supreme Constitutional Court is solely responsible for judicial oversight over the constitutionality of laws and regulations, interpretation of legislative texts, and adjudication of disputes related to the affairs of its members, and of jurisdictional conflicts between judicial bodies and bodies with judicial jurisdiction, and of adjudicating disputes that are based on the implementation of two final rulings.
In addition to the constitutional importance of the position of the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court, the position has a special importance at the political level, since the incumbent occupies the third place in the sequence of holding the position of the country’s president when he is unable to carry out his duties, preceded only by the prime minister and the speaker of parliament respectively, according to the constitution.
In addition, the elected President of the Republic takes the constitutional oath before the General Assembly of the Supreme Constitutional Court in the absence of the House of Representatives, which is what happened with Sisi in 2014 when he assumed the rule of the country for the first term. The President of the Republic also submits his resignation to the Supreme Constitutional Court in the absence of the House of Representatives.
Overriding the seniority rule
In recent months, the former president of the Supreme Constitutional Court, Counselor Saeed Marei, 67, suffered from consecutive health problems leading to his hospitalisation. It was medically proven that his health had deteriorated in a way that he was unable to carry out his responsibilities now and in the future, which prompted the state to move to refer him to retirement and appoint a replacement for him, and accordingly Iskander was chosen for undisclosed reasons.
By choosing Iskander as head of the Supreme Constitutional Court, Sisi dedicates his new authority, which he obtained under the suspicious constitutional amendment in 2019, which gives him the right to choose the head of the Constitutional Court from among the five oldest deputies to its president, instead of what was previously practiced in choosing the most senior deputy in the court as its head.
Sisi overtook the three oldest members of the Supreme Constitutional Court, advisers Mohamed Khairy Taha, Adel Omar Sharif, and Rajab Abdel Hakim Selim, and appointed Boulos Fahmy, the court’s fourth oldest judge, as its president. Sisi has taken advantage of constitutional and legal amendments more than once to overthrow independent judges who were scheduled to take over the presidency of major judicial bodies according to the principle of seniority, such as Counselor Yahya El-Dakrouri.
Dekrouri ruled against the transfer the Egyptian islands of Tiran and Sanafir, which the regime ceded to the state of Saudi Arabia, which angered Sisi and pushed him to deprive him of his right to be appointed president of the Supreme Administrative Court and to appoint another judge in his place.