Memorandum by the Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs (Murray)

Mr. Engert, our Chargé at Cairo, advised us yesterday by telegraph5 of the receipt of a note from the Egyptian Government5a requesting this Government to signify its agreement with the Egyptian point of view that native Egyptian Judges should have the right to preside over chambers of the Mixed Court and that the Arabic language be admitted in practice in the pleadings and decisions of those Courts.

These requests come about as a result of incidents which occurred last February. At that time one of the Egyptian Judges sitting on the Third Chamber of the Court of Appeals at Alexandria offered himself for appointment as President on the ground that there was nothing in the organic law of the Mixed Tribunals6 to prevent Egyptian Judges from such appointments. The matter was considered by the General Assembly of the Court of Appeals which decided that in the light of the wording of the Mixed Court Charter and in view of the unbroken practice of nearly fifty-eight years Egyptian Judges were not entitled to preside over any of the Chambers. The General Assembly added as its unanimous opinion that the level of education, intelligence and integrity of Egyptian Judges had so risen since the establishment of the Mixed Courts that there were now Egyptian Judges on those Courts quite as capable as foreigners of occupying the office of President of a Chamber.

The Egyptian Judges on the Courts took strong exception to this decision and threatened to go on strike in order further to show their displeasure. One or more of the Judges commenced to issue decisions in Arabic rather than in French which had hitherto been the language [Page 568] of the Courts. In the use of the Arabic language the Egyptian Judges were supported by the Court Charter which provides that Arabic, English, French and Italian shall be the official languages. In order to avoid confusion and to prevent the Courts becoming a babel, there has been for sometime a tacit agreement that French only should be used. As a matter of fact it is almost impossible to find suitable English or Arabic terms for some of the legal expressions current in Court since the law applied is based upon the Napoleonic Code.

Mr. Engert states that the Egyptian Government has requested a favorable reply before the reopening of the Courts next week. He is informing the Egyptian authorities, however, that such an answer is obviously impossible and that he is submitting the Egyptian note to the Department for its consideration. At the same time he plans to furnish us with the views of the other Capitulatory Powers.

Although we cannot come to a final decision until we have received further information, it seems to us at present that there would be no objection to granting the Egyptian request that native Judges shall have the right to preside over Chambers. It would not appear that this would be a dangerous practice inasmuch as the foreign judges in the Chamber are always in the majority. Thus in the lower Courts a Chamber is composed of two foreign Judges and one native. In the Court of Appeals three foreign Judges and two natives sit on each Chamber. Accordingly even if a native Judge is permitted to preside the foreign Judges will always hold the balance of power.

So far as the use of the Arabic language is concerned it would appear to be appropriate to inform the Egyptians that the use of Arabic, along with English, French and Italian, is already freely conceded by the Mixed Court Charter and that it would appear to be unnecessary and improper for this Government to take any action on the Egyptian request. It might further be pointed out that the question of use of languages would appear to be one for determination by the Mixed Courts themselves in the light of the exigencies of the situation and with a view to the prompt dispatch of judicial business.

Wallace Murray
  1. Not printed.
  2. Note of October 12, not printed.
  3. Règlement d’Organisation Judiciare pour les Procès Mixtes en Égypte (23 January, 1875), British and Foreign State Papers, vol. lxvi, p. 593.