Egypt: Women judges barred from influential court


Judges voted on Monday to bar women from ruling in an influential court which advises Egypt's government, official media reported, in a move slammed by human rights activists. The Council of State's association voted by an overwhelming majority against appointing women as judges in the council, Egypt's MENA news agency said. "Three-hundred and eighty judges took part in the general assembly and voted, with 334 rejecting the appointment of females to judicial posts and 42 agreeing, with four abstentions."

Egypt's Supreme Judicial Council, which has jurisdiction over criminal and civil courts, selected 31 women in 2007, who were later appointed by presidential decree.

But the decision angered conservatives who said women were not suited for the role.

Up until 2007, Egypt had only one woman serving as a judge, appointed by President Hosni Mubarak to the constitutional court.

Hossam Bahgat, an expert on human rights law and director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, criticised the judges' decision on Monday.

"I'm disappointed to see that there is a deep-seated bias prevalent among judges against women," he said.

Bahgat said the decision could technically be overruled by the Special Council, a supervisory body that oversees the Council of State.

"In theory, they can overturn today's vote. Today's vote is a disappointment. It shows opposition to the government's accumulative approach to ending discrimination against women in the judiciary."

Who Files a Report against Judges?
A Black Day in the History of Justice in Egypt

Justice in Egypt received a blow to its essence when the general assembly refused to allow judges of the State Council (Administrative Courts) the option to appoint women to judiciary positions. 380 members participated in the vote. 334 members refused the option to appoint women while 43 agreed to allow women in these positions and 4 members abstained from voting. This decision is contradictory with the principles of justice and law. Because of abstract and general legal norms, the law should not be applied differently based on one's gender, color, or race. Article 40 of the Constitution emphasizes this and states "All citizens are equal before the law. They have equal public rights and duties without discrimination between them due to race, ethnic origin, language, religion or creed." This decision is contradictory to principles of citizenship, which is stated in the first article of the Constitution, "The Arab Republic of Egypt is a democratic state based on citizenship. The Egyptian people are part of the Arab nation and work for the realization of its comprehensive unity" as well as to Article 3 of the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, "The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to ensure the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all civil and political rights set forth in the present Covenant."

ECWR views that this discussion and consequent decision is humiliating for both men and women. The discussion expresses a double standard within judicial appointment and puts shadows of doubts on the applied measures of justice in the State Council. ECWR is fearful of such double standards when the law is applied and do not trust such rulings.

ECWR wonders how the judges who refused women's appointments will respond or make judgments to those women who come with cases seeking justice and equality in order to obtain positions in other governmental bodies. In a time that judges are calling for independence of the judicial system according to the Egyptian Constitution and international conventions they insist to make discrimination against women despite these documents.

ECWR sees that pretending women have failed in the judiciary or are not suitable for such positions based on women's role in society is a real step back because they did not evaluate them based on the a criteria that measures their qualifications, experience, and expertise. Furthermore, there is an absence of an objective base of evaluation, as they did not invite women to participate in the discussion with regards to this decision and concerning what positions are suitable for women. In particular, there are a lot of highly qualified graduates from the faculty of law, who have been interested in participating in the judicial system since the middle of the 20th century and understand well the circumstances of work. ECWR strongly condemns the attitude of certain judges who regard themselves as the only rightful guardians of justice, in spite of the fatwa issued by Dr. Ali Gomaa, the religious 'mufti,' that stated women can be appointed to the position of judge or president.

ECWR demands:
-    From all governmental bodies, NGOs, educated people, and the whole of civil society to come together in order to confront this decision that denies the appointment of women.
-    Opportunities for law school graduates and lawyers to be appointed as judges based on a criterion that does not discriminate between men and women.
-    That we quickly act to enact a law that prevents discrimination so Egyptians may begin to believe that the government treats its citizens on the basis of their citizenship principles and qualifications.

Women's appointment as judges is an important step on the road to true justice!

To Join in Solidarity against this decision, please sign this press release

Nehad Aboul Komsan
ECWR's Chair

The Egyptian Center for Women's Rights
135 Misr-Helwan El Zeraay
2nd Floor, Suite 3
Hadayek El Maadi, Cairo
Tel: (20) 2 2.527.1397 / 2.528.2176
Fax: (20) 2 2.528.2175
NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nation