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In a reversal of Egypt’s recent trends regarding women in the judiciary, Egypt’s State Council voted this month to ban the appointment of female judges to the council. Despite the fact that Tahani El Gebaly was appointed to be Egypt’s first female judge in 2003, and 31 more women were appointed as judges in 2007, 334 of the 376 council judges voted in favor of the ban. Though Egypt’s Supreme Court has since overturned the ban, the subject has created an intense debate.
Dr. Zeinab Radwan, Council at People’s Assembly has described this decision as contrary to the principles of citizenship, equality, and the Islamic religion, stressing that the promotion of women in a nation was always a manifestation of the progression and development of its people. She added that it was a shock for everyone to hear about such a decision from the General Assembly of the State Council, which is supposed to protect the rights and freedoms in Egypt . Dr. Radwan wondered how logical it is that females can be appointed in both constitutional and ordinary courts while excluded from the State Council.
Dr. Salwa Bayomi, a member of the Shura Council, commented:
This is step backwards that is incompatible with the era we live in and achievements of women in the past ten years. It has no legal justification, not to mention being unconstitutional and against human rights without any legal basis. Plus, if this is the opinion of the General Assembly of the Council of State, why was the announcement – referring to announcing spots for new judges in the council- and testing both men and women, then declaring the success and efficiency of women, then voting against their appointment?!
Council Adel Farghaly, president of The Administrative Courts of Justice, had another way to justify such decision:
The refusal to appoint women to senior judicial positions has always been based on the fact that Egyptian women don’t perform the military service and pay their blood as a price like men do. And women occupy judicial functions in Western countries because they perform military service, and run all the jobs held by men, including acts of physical labor.
And then he adds:
The judicial work in Egypt is not suitable for women, as they cannot pay attention to their family and social duties based on their nature and on the social traditions, unlike men.
So according to the council, “traditions” should choose how people get employed and promoted in this country? It’s worth mentioning here that a lot of men in Egypt do not perform military service (according to Egyptian law, there are several exemptions). Unless the council can assure us that each and every Egyptian male judge has done the military service, it’s unfair to use this as a reason to prevent females from their rights.
On the other hand, Council Mohammed Hammed Elgamal, former president of the State Council, criticized all human and women rights organizations for their support for female judges, stressing on the independency of the State Council when it comes to taking decisions and asking them to pay more attention to the real problems of the poor and rural women, instead of agitating for what is important to only a “few of the intellect women.”
How can a poor, illiterate woman be liberated when a Ph.D. supreme lawyer can’t take her full rights in the fair opportunity of a job promotion? How do we expect a nation to categorize rights? I am not against prioritizing, but the fact the one segment of the highly educated and fully privileged women are not yet able to gain their full rights is nothing but a serious sign that there’s an even bigger problem with women with less empowerment.
In his column for Al Ahram, Egyptian writer Gaber Asfour mentioned in an article titled “A new discrimination against Egyptian women:”
I personally think that the State Council is with the right of women’s representation, and rejects any form of discrimination against them. But this recent decision of the Assembly actually prevents the rights of many people, a right that was already permitted by our Grand Mufti and senior scholars, not to mention that it is already practiced in so many Muslim countries. … Taking women’s constitutional right to board the platform of the State Council is a decision that should be rejected by every citizen who believes in the true sense of citizenship in a civil state not a religious one … And it is a must to face such act in defense of the civil state, and to defend women’s right to citizenship, and in defense of the essence of tolerance that is supported by the true Islam that is under trails of deformation by the religious fundamentalists.
A week after the ban, a special sub-council had an emergency meeting to discuss the issue in a step that was described by Al Ahram Al Masa’ay newspaper as “victory” for the cause of women’s rights.
On February 22, Egypt’s Supreme Judicial Council overruled the February 15 decision barring women from judicial positions by the country’s administrative court known as the Council of State.
The fight for female judges will not be over soon: Egyptian courts still have are other segments that do not allow women to be judges. But one must not mask the signs of hope in so many men and women who are courageous enough to keep on fighting as long as it takes!